OSR: a design philosophy of creating systems, settings and adventures that fit within the boundaries of old-school mechanics and concepts; that is, either directly utilizing features that were in existence in the period before the advent of 2nd edition AD&D; or features that, in spite of not having historically existed at that time, could have existed in that period without the addition of material or design concepts that are clearly the product of subsequent ideas or later theories.
So try this experiment yourself: get up from your computer and walk to your kitchen/office breakroom/coffee shop counter. Get yourself a drink. Now, before you return to your computer, recite RPGPundit's definition.
How much were you able to remember?
How many of you were unable to actually finish reading it before it turned into the mwah-mwah-mwah noises of an adult in a Peanuts cartoon?
I understand what RPGPundit is trying to do here. For the lists and tourneys of the message boards he adores so much, I suppose that definition would serve fairly well. (Looks a touch too broad in concept to me, while also assuming there’s a significant mechanical difference between 1e and 2e that I don’t think he’ll get much support on. But meh…)
You want an actually useful definition of the OSR? Here’s one:
Rulings, not rules.
Now, RPGPundit is going to hate this definition with a purple passion. It’s absolutely useless in a joust with the likes of Ron Edwards. It does nothing to fence “the swine” from the OSR or prevent them from claiming bits of it as their own. And it easily supports a meme of the OSR as a system in which DMs abuse their players.
But you know what? At a quarter-after-midnight, after a grueling but triumphant 4+ hour DMing session, when you’re talking to someone in the parking lot of your favorite gaming store, you’ll remember it.
And when you lay it down, it’ll actually mean something to the person you told it to. And they’ll be able to tell, instantly, whether or not your game is the sort of game they’d like to join in on.
Because that, ladies and gents, is what it’s all about. That’s how the OSR rose to the victorious heights it enjoys today.
And don’t make any mistake about it, folks. The triumph of the OSR is all around you. You can see it in the re-release of the 1e core books in collectable hardbacks (with a portion of the proceeds going to a Gygax memorial fund). You can see it in WotC using The Caves of Chaos in their public playtesting materials. You can see it in the boxed sets of the Dragon Age and Doctor Who RPGs. You can see it in Monte Cook’s Numenera core book, where he writes:
Numenera is a game about ideas, not rules. The rules are meant to be a framework upon which to hang the tapestry of the story you and the players create.
a loving homage to Expedition to the Barrier Peaks. And most of all, you can see it in the games people are actually playing.
And how did the OSR achieve this triumph? As much respect as I have for the research and historical perspective offered by folks like Maliszewski, the truth is, we did it by doing fun things and getting excited about them. We built our megadungeons and published them on our blogs and shared death-counts (both those of monsters and PCs) as they were explored. We went through every monster in the 2e Monstrous Manual and brainstormed hundreds of awesome, crazy, and silly ideas. We applauded Jeff Reints when he described our style as Retro-stupid and thrilled to the zany joys of Encounter Critical and spidergoats. We started magazines because magazines are cool and we published boxed sets because boxed sets are cool and we hold contests of all sorts and do blind Christmas exchanges and share our settings and get excited about new adventures and kick-starters because these things make our games more fun. We read about the open-table, nomadic PC play styles of the ‘70s and said, “That looks like fun!” and started Flailsnails. We embraced the “lawn crapper” heavy-metal trappings of Raggi. We have no shits to give about Zak and his face-to-face group’s nine-to-five, or what it says about women in gaming or blah-blah-blah because what they do at the table is freaking amazing and cool and is fun.
We are frikken’ gamers who frikken’ game and have a great time doing it.
And that is incredibly contagious.
People want a piece of our action because our action is a great way to spend three to nine hours. We don’t gaze at our navels, fretting about 30 minutes of fun, brain damage, or what our games say about society. We fill our time with fun things, hang out with cool people, and create amazing memories.
Who wouldn’t want to be a part of that? And, having that, who’d want to waste time worrying about what Ron Edwards thinks?