OSR, what is it and is anyone really playing it?

I think I like the OSR. My two favorite YouTube channels are Questing Beast and Dungeon Craft. Professor Dungeon Master of Dungeon Craft is about my age and defiantly played his share of old school Dungeons and Dragons. He has an “old-school” feel about him, but he actually seems to play 5e with more extreme rules. Ben, from Questing Beast is about 20 years younger and seems in love with OSR, however, he’s designed a few of his own games which are much more rules-light.

I bought a copy of Into the Unknown to get into OSR. Into the Unknown is good but it’s really 5e-light. I played it with my young-adult children but when they discovered 5e they really didn’t want to go back to OSR. I’m currently a player in a 5e campaign and a Pathfinder campaign, since I can’t seem to find anyone who wants to play OSR.

As per the topic, what is OSR to you? Do you want to play it? Are you able to find others who want to play it as well?

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I play exclusively old systems like WEG Star Wars and AD&D 2E. My problem with OSR is that they often they deviate away from the old school into modern design that really doesn’t mesh well.

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As I was composing this topic, I was viewing the Chat - Pen & Paper Games (penandpapergames.com) and was fortunate to see @pocketjacks uploaded a copy of his OSR module Palace of the Golden Princess. That was very generous of him and my quick glance at the Module feels right in line with Into the Unknown, which I mentioned in the topic. That was very generous of @pocketjacks and I encourage everyone to take a look at it.

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Thank you.

I find I like my 5e home brew version of old school D&D. Thieves were a poor class choice in a lot of those rules sets. I like the organization of condition categories and comparative elegance.

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My kids cut their teeth on AD&D 1st edition as did their friends. It was mostly for my convenience as I played BECMI, 1st, and 2nd edition and skipped 3 and 4. We tried 5th but I was still pulling rules from 1st and 2nd so it was this wonky mish mash with inflated numbers that didn’t jive with my brain.
But do I play OSR? I don’t know honestly. I convert Dungeon Crawl Classics modules to 1st and 2nd edition but I have taken advice on game mastering from Burning Wheel and Forged in the Dark/Powered by the Apocalypse games as well.
1st and 2nd edition just flow like water so that’s the games I fall back on.

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I’m a bit of an OSR fanatic. Hyperborea (NorthWind) and Swords & Wizardry are my favorite retro-clone games. I have a campaign ready to go for Hyperborea that takes place in my interpretation of Clark Ashton Smith’s Zothique setting. Finding in-person players has not been easy. Most groups in Cinci are 5e (which I hate) and the community seems to prefer public games at shops (which I’m also not into). I’m only 4 years in town and the unfortunate combination of Covid/Politics has damaged people’s ability to organize with strangers. Online gaming isn’t for me either, so I keep trying.

Sorry your intro to OSR was a 5e-like. The whole OSR thing started out as a way to produce new supplements and adventures for various versions of pre-WOTC D&D but the term has gotten muddled to include lots of tangentially related material like rules-lite heartbreakers and stripped down 5e iterations. To me, there needs to be continuity – rules- and presentation-wise – with those early TSR games.

I’ve taken a look at it, it’s for 5e.

They were a great choice for people who wanted to play thieves. Class balance or combat balance wasn’t a thing back then.

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People today don’t understand that “balance” wasn’t a thing back then. Classes provided a niche that a player would play and work with the tools given.

Another thing they forget is that pre-D&D 3.x the entirety of role playing was a “You Can Try System”. If you thought of something and there wasn’t rules for the GM/DM would adjudicate using the existing rules. Today it’s all “If You Don’t Have X Then You Can’t Do Y.”

Finally, encounters were unbalanced to force the group to think on how to overcome the situation. It could be just avoiding the encounter or parlaying for safe passage. It didn’t mean you had to slaughter everything in your path.

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Dungeon Crawl Classics is popular enough to have major events at GenCon

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Sword and Wizardry represents too small a market to write for.

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You know what’s especially ironic about that? If Palace of the Golden Princess were written for OSE, Swords & Wizardry, or a similar clone, it would have done leagues better than it did. The people who truly care about a Palace of the Silver Princess sequel are probably more into OSR games than 5e.

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I.m not sure what you are basing that statement on. All my discussions with Frog God games and others relay one common theme, 5e outsells the old rules versions.

Then I have to decide which OSR rules system presents the just the right disregard for game balance and clarity to really capture that particular audience of people who seek to embrace their nostalgia.

As an experiment, I could publish an S&W version, but I am prepared to wager on fewer sales.

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You know what?

Your comment has given me an idea, and I have now reached out to Old-School Essentials.

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The definition of OSR and the distinction between that and “retro clone”can cause philosophical/religious debate ;). For my purposes here I will use the terms synonymously: Games that attempt to recreate the mechanics and/or feel of an original game from the 70’s, 80’s, or early 90’s.

Are people playing them? Yes. What percentage of the RPG market I cannot say.

Having cut my teeth on Basic D&D back in the mid '80s, and then played both 1st & 2nd AD&D, those types of rule sets appeal to me most. The OSR/retro-clone I play most is the Basic Fantasy Roleplaying Game (www.basicfantasy.org). I prefer this game for three reasons:

  1. The game mechanics, tone, and even format and font used in the books are so close to that of the D&D BX/ECMI game that I’m able to use old resources (modules) created for the original game on the fly without having to engage in complicated conversions.
  2. The BFRPG game is completely FREE. While you can buy printed copies if you wish, the core rules and ALL SUPPLEMENTS are freely available for download. Because of this there is a very healthy fan community and we are encouraged to submit material.
  3. Because it’s freely available it’s easier to onboard new players. The rules are also light enough for new players to catch on quickly.
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@pocketjacks, My post was a reaction to someone waving off a game system I enjoyed out of a somewhat perfunctory notion that it wasn’t worth writing for. This thread seems to have been made to allow OSR supporters to raise hands on a new forum and I took your comment for an attack. My apologies if that wasn’t the intention.

Of coarse that’s true in most respects, or in a general respect. But some ideas are going to have a broader appeal to the OSR crowd and this is one of them. Something related to a Basic D&D module that wasn’t widely played even when it was current is going to be the latter. As a collector and old D&D nut, when I heard about the Silver Princess sequel I jumped in my seat. That module meant something to me (I still have my copy of the B3 Green cover). Whereas most 5e people simply overlooked it as yet another third-party thing among thousands. I was even more excited to find Courtney Campbell was involved, but my hopes were dashed when I found out it was 5e only. Now I find out that’s due to the idea of 5e having a broader sales market.

I know that some publishers that started out doing books for both systems eventually stopped doing their 5e books because only the OSR ones caught on. Greg Gillespie’s megadungeons are a good example of material made for both where OSR outperforms it’s 5e counterpart, according to the author. You’ll find plenty of wildly successful OSR products. You’ll also find plenty of 5e things that failed to find an audience. In the last year especially, every OSR Kickstarter I’ve seen (and I don’t miss much) has been funded several times over while many 5e ones just get lost in the crowd. So don’t assume just because 5e is generally more popular, anything for 5e is going to outsell an OSR version. I agree that S&W is an iffy prospect despite my love for it and the fact that plenty of people are still making quality material for it. But something like
Old-School Essentials…?

Hey if a version of Golden Princess gets made for OSE I’m in. I don’t even care about being right or wrong in this extremely off-topic (sorry OP) discussion. Peace.

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One more thing:

That reads to me as contempt. You really think that’s what OSR is all about?

If every version of retro-cloned OSR systems sticks with poor character balance because it, well, it always was, then we are disregarding game elements I feel are important simply to capture nostalgia.

In terms of what the OSR crowd “is all about” I have no idea. I sell at 2 OSR cons a year and do well there with my comic books. I enjoy playing Battletech.

No one has ever presented me with a philosophy of the OSR or a position statement. My discussions with other retailers largely come back to fan service for nostalgia products.

Not to be rude here, but character balance wasn’t there in OSR. In fact, it was expected as every character had a defined niche. The entire balance thing needs to die in a fire since it’s a modern thing started with DANDINO 3.x.

OSR is supposed to be challenging and unbalanced.

Incorrect on that point. I noted the philosophy of OSR. Let me repeat it.

People today don’t understand that “balance” wasn’t a thing back then. Classes provided a niche that a player would play and work with the tools given.

Another thing they forget is that pre-D&D 3.x the entirety of role playing was a “You Can Try System”. If you thought of something and there wasn’t rules for the GM/DM would adjudicate using the existing rules. Today it’s all “If You Don’t Have X Then You Can’t Do Y.”

Finally, encounters were unbalanced to force the group to think on how to overcome the situation. It could be just avoiding the encounter or parlaying for safe passage. It didn’t mean you had to slaughter everything in your path.

There is the matter of Haronniin specifying what is OSR to him.

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I don’t know that original D&D was “supposed” to be anything buy a fun game people bought.

There were certainly a number of cooks in that kitchen who all had their own ideas, and some behind the the scenes drama between Basic, AD&D, and 2e.

I CAN tell you, having played quite a bit of 1e/2e growing up, no one ever played a straight thief. I never once, in hundreds of hours of gaming back in the 1980s had someone tell me, “Let me play a straight thief so that we all have our niches.”

I can, however, remember a number of people wanting to play Assassins and kill everyone in 1e, but I think that a different story.