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So, maybe I’m not OSR?

I posted this, and then I accidentally deleted it, and here it is again, with a few minor edits:

As an illustrator/cartoonist/graphic novelist, I’ve never faced a shortage of people helpfully informing me that I’m not an artist. Which is fine. I buy my supplies at an art store, my degrees have the words “fine arts” on them, and I teach art classes in art departments at arty-arty-art schools. But, fine, whatever. If you have some qualitative definition of “art” that excludes what I do, fine. I’d rather put my energy into the work.

Keith Arnatt, Trouser - Word Piece
When I started playing with games again, and especially with hacking rulesets, I assumed I was doing so in the spirit of the OSR. I was drawn to the early editions of D&D both out of nostalgia and because they provided an easily-accessible scaffold. I could get buy-in from players on a homebrew ruleset based off D&D when I couldn’t for one based off FU.

Some of the definitions being proposed for the OSR are obviously written to the tune of an axe being ground. But even the definitions genuinely meant as feats of observation, not dogma, inform me that maybe just being into B/X isn’t the same as being OSR.

So, if I’m not really OSR, fine. Here’s what I’m pretty sure I am:

DIY: I love to play with rules, and I love to see other people play with rules. Simple pdfs with public-domain images and typos and ample evidence of the author’s voice make me feel invited to play—like I’m in a community of individuals making wonderful things for the love of it. Conversely, Slickly designed, lavishly-rendered, professional products make me feel like I'm consuming a property.

OGL: Dangit, I love the OGL. I love that it exists. I think it is a genuinely important cultural artifact, beyond the scope of the tabletop rpg community. In discussions of corporate-dictated copyright laws tying up properties far beyond the lives of their creators, a common claim is that there would be a “flourishing of creative activity” if these laws were returned to the scope of their original intent. The OGL is evidence of this principle.

RPG: I like to collaborate with others to create a world, and populate it with interesting beings, and explore it. And I think dice are neat.

Story-gamer: For the life of me, I can’t understand why this is a line in the sand for people. I love a good storygame. Let’s play Microscope or Goblin Quest or Baron Munchausen! I also like to play board games and dumb little cell-phone games, and when my kid and I are at a restaurant and the food hasn’t come, we’ll play tic-tac-toe or pigpen.

Old: I’m old and I share an arc with an awful lot of the gamers I meet. First rpg: Holmes Basic D&D. Moved on to AD&D, and then every other RPG I could find and afford. Played through middle school, high school, and college. Lost touch with the hobby. Now I’m a middle-aged dad who can squeeze a couple hours out of the week for fun, and was surprised to discover that I really wanted to spend those hours playing a game from my childhood.

 There you go. If the above does not qualify me as OSR, then I'll miss having the handy label. But I won't worry about it much. I'd rather put my energy into the games.


  1. Joel, I think you just summed up the most important issue of this recurring OSR debate. If you're having fun playing a game you love, it doesn't matter what other people think.


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