Friday, October 10, 2014

Why you can't game the OSR

There is been a lot of conversation about what the OSR is, how to define, people "trying" to take over,etc. I been offering my own opinion about the OSR for a long time in the hopes of getting people to realize that if they want to they can do their own thing with classic DnD and other old school games.

This article has crystallized a thought I long held about the OSR.

You can't game it.

In the article Paul Graham talks about his experience with computer technology startups. On thing that leaped out at me was this piece of advice.
t's not surprising that after being trained for their whole lives to play such games, young founders' first impulse on starting a startup is to try to figure out the tricks for winning at this new game. Since fundraising appears to be the measure of success for startups (another classic noob mistake), they always want to know what the tricks are for convincing investors. We tell them the best way to convince investors is to make a startup that's actually doing well, meaning growing fast, and then simply tell investors so. Then they want to know what the tricks are for growing fast. And we have to tell them the best way to do that is simply to make something people want.
The OSR from day one was about making something that people want. At first it was focus on making stuff people wanted for classic DnD. As number of people joining in grew that broadened to to a focus on Old School in general.

So anytime somebody or some group tries to define or take over the OSR the cold hard fact is that unless they play, promote, or publishing something that the people in the OSR want, they will be ignored.

Of course what makes Paul Graham different than any other person writing an article? He was one of the first to make to make a fortune off of the internet in the 1990s. He was part of a company who made Viaweb one of the first software program that allowed people to create Internet stores easily. Viaweb was sold to Yahoo for several million dollars. Then he became part of a group of investors who started Y Combinator to help people with technology startups along with writing about his experience. I been reading his stuff for a couple of years now and my impression that he is a smart guy who knows his stuff who continues to have successes.

While the OSR never needed a Y Combinator, I felt it does need guys like Paul Graham to encourage and help people with their own projects and I resolved to be one of those guys.

What I tell people when they want to publish or promote for the OSR that there are two known paths of success in addition to doing good work.

  • You write for one of the classic editions of DnD or something very similar
  • You write something that you think would be interesting to fans of classic editions of DnD and put a lot of work into promoting and selling it to the rest of the OSR.
The first reflect how the OSR started among the fans of classic DnD and that classic DnD still is the core of the whole thing. The second reflect that OSR gamers are not one-dimensional caricatures and have other interested. That the most common interest is in other old school games.

Both have successful examples. Examples of the first include OSRIC, Labyrinth Lord, Swords and Wizardry, and a wealth of adventures, like Barrowmaze, written specifically for an older edition of DnD. Examples of the second include Dungeon Crawl Classic, Lamentation of the Flame Princess, Arrows of Indra, and my own Majestic Wilderlands.

They are successful because people wanted them. Classic DnD continues to be played and promoted because people want to play a game they have a lot of fun at. That the closest you will ever get to a definition of the OSR,  It also why I say the OSR is defined by those who DO.

Also realize that because of the OSR's origins on the internet, the Open Game License, along with existence of multiple classic DnD communities from the beginning means it is insanely diverse. These factors in conjunction has ensured that there are no gatekeepers or artificial barriers for a gamer needs to leap in order to do his own thing.  

You will notice I talked a lot about classic DnD. No doubt that there will be people getting upset at the fact I am seemly giving old school little credit or acknowledgement. That I am claiming that the OSR is only about classic DnD thus reinforcing the notion that the clonemanics are continuing to attempt to capture the OSR for their own devious purposes.

The OSR is indeed mostly about classic DnD for the simple reason that classic DnD has the largest fan base of any old school. It dwarfs other old school games by at least an order of magnitude. The only way an old school movement can not be about classic DnD if it excludes it.

Conversely a movement starting out at being focused on classic DnD will expand to include other old school games in the absence of gatekeepers. Gamers are not one dimensional caricatures and like any other human being are capable of being interested in more than one thing. 

Thanks to the factors I stated previously the OSR never had gatekeepers. So naturally that led to the situation today where you have an OSR centered on classic DnD along with a wealth of other old school games under the OSR label.

And this whole glorious mess is why any attempt to game the OSR is doomed to failure. Either you play, promote, or publishing something that OSR gamers are interested in, or you are ignored. No amount of punditry, or sermonizing is going to grant a shortcut to success in the OSR.

If you are reading and have an idea for classic DnD or old school in general I strongly encourage you to do your thing and share it with rest of us.

Fight On!


trollsmyth said...

While we don't have gatekeepers, we do have standards. Those standards have been set by the people who have built the OSR into what it is today. We have Maliszewski's academic curiosity, Zak's deep creativity, Raggi's metal and can-do attitude, Jeff's retro-stupid enthusiasm, and countless blogs (this one chief among them) with actual, at-the-table experience to share. And that's not getting into the cool stuff so many other blogs are posting daily. This truly is a golden age in OSR play.

If you want to hunt with this pack, you'd better bring your A game.

The Evil Dungeon Master said...

Douglas Cole said...

Jack Bauer can game the OSR.