[OSR] What do we like about Old School?

edited April 2012 in Story Games
I'm interested in hearing what people like about OS/OSR.

My context is that I no longer play old school rpgs, but I still feel drawn to them and I'm trying to figure out what that is about. I'm interested in looking through the lenses of Design, and Player Experience.
My goal is to understand the essence of what makes OS cool, and use that to inform future designs.

Here are the things that appeal to me,

-Grit
OSR has a grit to it. When you die, you just die. No second chances. It makes the danger feel dangerous, and the victories rewarding.

-Heroic Journey, and the Promise of Greatness
You start out stomping rats in the basement of an inn, but someday...someday, you'llown this inn!

-Toys
I love miniatures, maps, gaudy boxed sets

-Tactical Combat
I always like the idea of tactical combat, but don't ask me how I feel, when 2 hour's later I'm still working on those rats.

how about you?
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Comments

  • edited April 2012
    Regarding old school D&D, I like the merciless challenge and the sandboxy freedom. The negotiation over challenges (that is, player freedom to choose their own challenges) is unique and interesting, as it obviates the need for game balancing. The core activity of dungeoneering is socially very robust, too, which I like a lot - the game requires much less creative accord and can take a higher amount of deadwood players without bothering play. The role of the GM is much more balanced than in traditional games, as the GM is not rensponsible for pacing and framing - the game involves a degree of shared duties that would be considered radical to this day. Also, the organic resolution procedures that constantly reference the fiction in resolving issues is a perfect accompaniment to the above; many other games would break down with e.g. the merciless process that determines character death, but the way D&D organizes and frames challenge makes it all work.

    Of course, the above goes for the version of D&D I've been playing. The game's textual and practical history is so wide and varied that there are not many things somebody hasn't done with it.
  • At the moment, I can only speak to Stars Without Number.

    I love the fragility of beginning characters. The game is saying, "most people don't lead lives of adventure, because here's why: you get killed." Surviving that is testament to being badass. In some modern hippy game you'd probably get "scar points" or something from a fight. In OSR you just know that your character has scars, and each one is a trophy.

    I love the lack of rules minutia. For our Sunday SWN game, I need one book, and most of the time I barely need that. There's apparently a spot-ruling muscle, and it gets stronger with use.

    I love that as a GM, I am constantly surprised by what happens. The sandbox is a wonderful thing.
  • I am drawn to the the surreal situations that naturally arise. Like stumbling onto an evil unicorn that could easily kill us all, and throwing a moldy carpet over its head to give us some time to run. And then regretting losing the moldy carpet.

    In retrospect that sounds inane, but in the moment you are poring over your character sheet looking for a way to stay death's icy horn.
  • Posted By: Jason MorningstarI am drawn to the the surreal situations that naturally arise. Like stumbling onto an evil unicorn that could easily kill us all, and throwing a moldy carpet over its head to give us some time to run. And then regretting losing the moldy carpet.
    This, but replace "unicorn" with "Pit Fiend" and "carpet" with "scavenged tarp" and you've got a verbatim situation from a game I was in.

    I like the creativity OSR games inspire. How direct interaction with the rules isn't always the best solution. Disengaging from an obvious rule can sometimes be more effective. You can fight anything. There are mechanics for that. But to outsmart / overcome you often have to think outside what's presented to you in a thoughtless way.

    Adventurers carrying weird stuff like bags of flour or whatever because sure, you can cast Dispel Magic to stop an invisible enemy, but you can also nail them with the bag of flour, too.
  • Because an "interact with imaginary physics to solve problems to the referee's satisfaction" game is quite a different experience than a "interact with an economy that promotes dramatic tension" game.

    And yes, those are both incomplete and perhaps unfair characterizations. Pretend they're illustrations or caricatures or whatever. But at least for me, it illustrates the very different pleasures each gives me, both as a player and facilitator.
  • Oh! Also, this huge inversion of Player / Character skill. I see it EVERY TIME I play B/X, especially with new players. Where your character is, in a lot of ways, kind of a helpless little shit but if you're smart and careful, you can bypass or overcome the stuff that would kill you. It's rewarding in a way that getting an extra +1 to hit really isn't.
  • Digestible rulebooks.
  • Yeah, for me it is the simplicity of the rules and the narrowness of the focus.
  • Nothing is as pleasing as circumventing obstacles by coming up with clever unforeseen solutions. Digestible Rulebooks and the constant dependence on the fiction for resolution are both big parts of making the first thing work for me.
  • Getting chastised by people I'll never meet for opinions I don't actually hold.
  • edited April 2012
    Depending on the specific GM and OSR game, I enjoy:

    - High lethality promoting smart play
    - Player skill
    - Description matters
    - Strong GM role
    - No railroading
    - Non-tactical combat
    - Maps not grids
    - Open Gaming Content
  • I'm going to jump in and say that I really like the layout and black and white inked illustrations. There is something magical about the way books of that era present themselves.
  • I <3 telling everyone they "are doing it wrong".

    Elves have thermal imaging vision and writing? That means they don't read runes, they read braille.

    Your L3 Wizard with 7hp might be called Merlin, but he *will* get killed by my swarm of six normal rabbits.

    You think your 2d8+2 soldier NPC represents an elite fighter? No, it represents a 12yo spear carrier.

    <3 Snake_Eyes

    Seriously though, I <3 ODD because I can make a character that I can play for hours (or months) of adventuring in under 5 minutes.
  • edited April 2012
    Why Do Revolutionaries Around the World Prefer a 50-Year Old Rifle?

    "The main advantages of the Kalashnikov rifle are its simple design, fairly compact size and adaptation to mass production. It is inexpensive to manufacture, and easy to clean and maintain. Its ruggedness and reliability are legendary.[26][27] The AK-47 was initially designed for ease of operation and repair by glove-wearing Soviet soldiers in Arctic conditions. The large gas piston, generous clearances between moving parts, and tapered cartridge case design allow the gun to endure large amounts of foreign matter and fouling without failing to cycle. This reliability comes at the cost of accuracy, as the looser tolerances do not allow for precision and consistency....The average service life of an AK-47 is 20 to 40 years depending on the conditions to which it has been exposed"

    -Wikipedia
  • I am drawn to the OSR games because there's a lot of excitement around them coming from people I like to game with.

    What can I say? I'm a pack animal and this hobby is a group activity, so going towards the energy doesn't seem like a bad strategy for fun.
  • OD&D -- the Kalashnikov of RPGs. I like that.
  • The main one:

    I like how well-defined and rigid the expectations for the roles (DM/player) are in old school play. And how they are asymmetrical.

    As a player, I like exploring someone else's setting, and focusing all my attentions on problem-solving and discovery, and just imagining being this character in this setting.

    As a DM, I like creating a setting to reveal to the players, and being able to throw a bunch of random stuff into it that I think is neat, whether they are problems, threats, tools, or rewards, and then being surprised at how the players interact with everything.

    These also:

    I like the grittiness/lethality/weak-level-1, but not overwhelmingly so. I think that is just one flavour of a challenge that isn't too easy and can't be completely, unequivocally beaten.

    I like the artifacts, too. We don't use miniatures much, but there's always maps. I like maps because they are exploration and puzzle at the same time.

    I like that the stories attached to characters are almost entirely the stuff that happens to them during play, and not backstory, even backstory invented during play. And how these stories are often most affected by random tables and completely unexpected events.
  • edited April 2012
    Lots of things in fact... In no particular order.

    Ease of use : easy to learn, easy to explain, easy to GM

    Life is a bitch : adventuring is dangerous and if you act foolishly you end up dead. Well, you might die if you are too cautious as well. Experiment.

    Fast combat : my OSR games of choice are Lamentations of the Flame Princess and Sword & Wizardry : White Box. When combat is fast you have time for other things.

    Fruitful void : "a character's background is what happens between level 1 and 6" (IIRC). So you don't have to make up your character's background at the beginning of the game when you barely know the setting, the rules and possibly the other players.

    The AK-47 analogy : it's funny because I used this one on a french forum. The point is you can have a highly focused game, with very tight rules and very narrow situation or setting, something like a top-notch sniper rifle. When you hit the target, it's great but if you miss it's a disaster. With an OSR game you can have drunk players, sloppy preparation, different players with different agendas and still have fun. I like that.

    The goulash : you like Burning Wheel's Instincts ? Trollbabe's "free and clear" stage ? Just put them in your game.

    Trust : an OSR game works if the GM trust the players and vice-versa, there are no rules preventing either of them to act like dicks. That's good, I don't need rules to handle basic human relationships.

    Energy : there are a lot of things happening (blogs, books, whatever...) and there are many things waiting to be done. I love to read OSR blogs with a smile on my face and find things that I'll immediatly use in my games.

    Fruitful void II : the cracks in the game (or "missing rules") is where the game happen, between the GM and the players. The less cracks you have, the less space the GM and players have.

    Failure : sometimes your character fails and there is no "Yes, but..." or "No, but...". Sometimes "No" is the only answer and you have to find something else to do. This is what failure is all about. And OSR games are all about learning from your failures (as a player and as a GM).

    Space-time anomaly : as Snake Eyes said above, I can create a character in 5 minutes and play him for one hour or 3 years. The rules won't break either way.
  • The worst thing about old-school role playing games is that they never quite told you how to play 'em.
    They took for granted some kinda shared mindset that musta been happening in Lake Geneva... or something?
    Maybe?
  • Just a reminder, this thread is for what you Like about OSR.
  • Posted By: Nathan H.The worst thing about old-school role playing games is that they never quite told you how to play 'em.
    Put that into my list as well, that's what makes them awesome to me.
  • Posted By: KobayashiPosted By: Nathan H.The worst thing about old-school role playing games is thatthey never quite told you how to play 'em.
    Put that into my list as well, that's what makes them awesome to me.Plus one.
  • There's a lot I love about old-school gaming, but from a design perspective, one thing I love is the extreme /transparency/ of many old-school systems. You don't get second-order effects creeping out of the woodwork to surprise the players and interrupt the flow of play. It's a side-effect of their extreme orthogonality- because there are so many self-contained systems, they don't bleed over into each other in the way of a game with a unified resolution mechanism. With some more modern games you end up with 12-die synergies leaping out of nowhere because the game's mechanical vocabulary can only express challenges along one axis of resolution. These individual systems can often actually be easier to remember and use than permutations of a unified mechanism, simply because the very distinct systems have less risk of confusion than several remixed implementations of the same mechanism.

    At the table, I love the ease of play. People don't get overwhelmed by old-school D&D. Even at AD&D's most baroque, your character fits on a 3x5 card and the DM will tell you if you need to roll anything more exotic than a hit roll or a saving throw. If you're playing OD&D or B/X, you can learn every rule a player will ever need to remember in ten minutes- five if you're an experienced RPGer- and have your first character rolled up during the process. That sense of ease and system mastery lets players stop worrying about whether they're playing the game correctly and focus instead on the events of the game and what sort of actions and goals they intend to pursue.

    I think there are plenty of legitimate objections as to whether or not old-school games are the best tool for any particular purpose. More modern games have done really impressive things in modeling genres, engineering specific experiences, and interrogating the meta-context around the game-as-experienced. But old-school gaming is beautifully adapted for just sitting down, grabbing a character, and taking them as far in whatever direction you choose as your luck and personal cunning can carry them.
  • edited April 2012
    Ross, I dig grit and heroic journeys too.

    My favorite thing about OS play, when it's done fiction-first instead of rules-first, is how the world becomes vivid through intense attention born of huge incentives. Basically, anything in this room could be the key to my character's death, survival, or profit, so my character is really tuned in to his surroundings, and now I as a player am too. This remains the classic version of immersion for me. I may be using a funny voice or whatever, but that's me, here in this imaginary place, trying to figure out the best way forward.

    I'm not talking about the GM hiding clues and setting traps for the inattentive, I'm talking about treating every fictional detail as real, and honoring what it is and what it can do in the hands of the inventive.

    I'm talking about the GM who stays impartial, and reasons from within the world, allowing the players' growing knowledge of that world to become their most powerful tool. "Why yes, it does make sense that this is where the previous occupants of the castle stored their oil. You guys have a plan for using this to defeat the grell, don't you?"
  • OSR continues to give me a "you too can and should make cool stuff like this and share it with your friends" vibe that, for right or wrong, I just don't get from almost every other game. There are a few exceptions.
  • edited April 2012
    I love that Old School Games DO tell you how to play them. I mean, I don't know of a recent D&D-ish game that has clear instructions on how to play like Moldvay does.

    "An adventure begins when the party enters a dungeon, and ends when the party has left the dungeon and divided the treasure."

    "At the start of the game, the players enter the dungeon and the DM described what the characters can see. One player should draw a map from the DM's descriptions; that player is called the mapper."

    And those are from the first four pages! The whole thing is an actual instruction manual on how to play the game, not a bunch of mechanics and being told to be awesome.

    Some OSR games do that. Some don't. When they do, it's what I love the most.
  • I like that despite having a mish-mash of several different versions of D&D in my head that when I transpose rules and procedures, by accident or with intent, it still works and makes sense. More and more, D&D seems like a mindset to me and less and less a specific game. When you hack D&D you're hacking the collective unconscious.
  • Posted By: RogerOSR continues to give me a "you too can and should make cool stuff like this and share it with your friends" vibe that, for right or wrong, I just don't get from almost every other game. There are a few exceptions.
    Posted By: C. EdwardsI like that despite having a mish-mash of several different versions of D&D in my head that when I transpose rules and procedures, by accident or with intent, it still works and makes sense. More and more, D&D seems like a mindset to me and less and less a specific game. When you hack D&D you're hacking the collective unconscious.
    +1 to both of these.
  • The whole thing is anactual instruction manual on how to play the game, not a bunch of mechanics and being told to be awesome.

    Some OSR games do that. Some don't. When they do, it's what I love the most.
    Why do you care? Presumably you already know how to play an RPG, right? I can see why 12 year old you might want appreciate instructions, but why you now?
  • edited April 2012
    Hey Zak, take it outside please. I'm really excited about what people are saying here and I don't want it to fly off the rails.

    So again to reiterate, please share with us what you like about OSR.
  • Posted By: Ross CowmanHey Zak, take it outside please. I'm really excited about what people are saying here and I don't want it to fly off the rails.

    So again to reiterate, please share with us what you like about OSR.
    I already did.
  • I like red box D&D because it has the monsters and character classes and rules that were the coolest and most amazing thing ever when I was 14.
  • My favorite thing about the OSR is the way it's filling in all the gaps in the rules that I wanted desperately as a kid. Like, Stars Without Number and Adventurer Conqueror King are the games that I thought Traveller and D&D were, but then when I read them they felt really incomplete.

    What I like about the old school itself is the character fragility and emergent protagonism that Matt talks about upthread. It introduces a kind of tension and anxiety to the game that I haven't had in a game in a long time. While I remember feeling a sense of relief when encountering The Shadow of Yesterday and Trollbabe and all these games where I didn't have to about my character casually dying, I threw the baby out with the bathwater. And it's really satisfying to feel that character go from a person who a stray bullet could kill to someone who can dive into a firefight and still be at risk, but be a serious badass before they go down.
  • What I like about the OSR specifically is that it's keeping alive a tradition of play that I've never experienced, and making it increasingly likely that I will experience it a la what Johnzo said:
    Posted By: johnzoI am drawn to the OSR games because there's a lot of excitement around them coming from people I like to game with.

    What can I say? I'm a pack animal and this hobby is a group activity, so going towards the energy doesn't seem like a bad strategy for fun.
    I feel like there's (obviously) something to learn from these games, and a new kind of enjoyment to be had, and I haven't learned it nor enjoyed it. I want to!
  • Dungeon maps. Maps of all kinds are great, but maps of dungeons, ruined palaces, that sort of thing, are just awesome.

  • I love …
    • the creative community,
    • the joy and enthusiasm that’s expressed about playing,
    • that I've discovered a solid play style where I get to be a heavy handed DM and not make up an ending,
    • the aesthetics (I was already in love with the 70s for clothes, furniture, music, etc.),
    • and that I have so much fun when I play these games!
  • I love that my red and purple covered Moldvay books hold so much history. They are personal artefacts for me. There are scrawled notes in the margins, the holes punched in them have been stretched and torn by at least 3 binders that held their precious contents. All of this damage has been lovingly repaired. The covers are protected with clear adhesive, the staples have been replaced with robust hand stitching. Each black and white illustration has been hand coloured with pencils in the style of Otus, key sections of text have been highlighted and remarked upon. My favourite being my 12 year old self writing in the space under SAVING VS ABILITIES on p.X51

    'Swap this roll. Subtract the ability score from 20. You have to roll ABOVE this on a d20. Rolling higher is more fun. Some magic items may help. On a 20 a player always gets want they want.'

    Story gamer way back when :)

    My other favourite thing about the OSR is that damn look what would have happened if we had the internet way back in 81'. For me, my group had always been me (as DM) and my three brothers. This game experience bonded us together. We played most weekends, to pass the time on long distance car trips, at lunchtime in the school library. Nowdays, I can talk about roleplaying with a wonderful array of folks from all over the world, and its amazing! But my brothers (who have stopped gaming mostly) and I still break out my well-worn and much beloved B/X D&D most Holidays when we get together, and once or twice a year share a magical experience that catapults us back, to interact with our child selves and roll up some characters, pulling on familiar roles of caller and mapper and DM like a super-comfy pair of jeans and jumper. Despite trying them on other, newer and more 'indie' rulesets, the lads always want to go back to our jointly developed version of D&D. Though I must admit, if we play at my place they have taken to mapping with my huge box of 4e dungeon tiles and using minis to represent their characters in the dungeon!
  • edited April 2012
    Posted By: Zak SWhy Do Revolutionaries Around the World Prefer a 50-Year Old Rifle?

    "The main advantages of the Kalashnikov rifle ...
    I believe rpgs of the former millennium similes more to the blunderbuss; a loud and largely inaccurate weapon. But dear you; let us indeed create some kalashnikovs to revolutionize the way we design and do classical role-playing games.

    What I do love about the classical set-up; leader + players, is that this divide includes an element of on-the-spot human ingenuity, and it infuses the game-interaction with a fruitful difference in status, which makes the games both more interesting and unpredictable.

    As a game-smith I love the challenge of making a simple and effective method of play, that some leader-to-be will take as her own, and use to lead a game. It is wonderful when that process comes together and produce great game-play!

    BTW: anyone here sure of what "OSR" really is? We discussed it in another thread, and there seemed to be a lot of confusion surrounding the term ...

  • BTW: anyone here sure of what "OSR" really is? We discussed it in another thread, and there seemed to be a lot of confusion surrounding the term ...
    I'm on it--I whispered this since it seems like it'd derail he thread.
  • edited April 2012
    Posted By: Ross CowmanI'm interested in hearing what people like about OS/OSR.
    Could you start with explaining what these acronyms mean? Feel free to skip responding to this and just edit the OP [Original Post].
  • Sure, for me, Old School means Blue/Red Box D&D AD&D. Old School Revival means games that reference classic D&D in their design like Stars Without Number, Dungeon World, and Lamentations of the Flame Princess.
  • edited April 2012
    I want to invite everyone to add this for consideration...

    Some hallmark OSR mechanics:
    -Hit Points
    -The 6 stats
    -3d6 Stats that translate into modifiers
    -Armor Class
    -Missing
    -the d20
    -Attack and Damage Rolls
    -Skills
    -Equipment
    -Experience Points
    -Leveling
    Adding skills + equipment + fictional positioning to calculate the odds of success?

    A question:
    how do these mechanics, create the experiences we've been talking about above?

    Posters: please focus on mechanics you like.
  • For me it's nostalgia. I got the basic set when I was seven, and a blue and white map of a dungeon is enough to make me go all misty-eyed. Sigil of wistful adventure.

    Pre-planned dungeons are also a really good way of exploring someone else's imagination. In games where the content emerges on the fly, it's much more about what those of us sitting around the table can come up with. If the game is about exploration, then it's five people exploring the GM's imagination, so pre-written content greatly increases the diversity of ideas.

    The other thing is that a pre-planned dungeon has a certain concreteness to it. When I play story games, reality feels spongy - I guess I'm keenly aware of how I'm willing, as GM, to bend heaven and earth to make a narratively satisfying outcome. A pre-planned dungeon is unyielding in this regard, and therefore much more narratively dangerous. There's no chance of you finding a secret door that bypasses the danger, there isn't one here. The deadliness of this or that trap doesn't respect your remaining hit points so we can explore what your character goes through mentally as he or she crawls home, half crippled - you just get crushed by the stone block. It creates a very different attitude toward risk.
  • Posted By: Ross CowmanI want to invite everyone to add this for consideration...

    Some hallmark OSR mechanics:
    -Hit Points
    -The 6 stats
    -3d6 Stats that translate into modifiers
    -Armor Class
    -Missing
    -the d20
    -Attack and Damage Rolls
    -Skills
    -Equipment
    -Experience Points
    -Leveling
    Adding skills + equipment + fictional positioning to calculate the odds of success?

    A question:
    how do these mechanics, create the experiences we've been talking about above?

    Posters: please focus on mechanics you like.
    I think that list is more mutable than you think. New thread?
  • Yeah, I also think DW is not even close to being OSR, but that's another issue.
  • Yeah, I'd agree. I don't think of Dungeon World as an OSR game. But I could be wrong.
  • edited April 2012
    DW is like the electric car of the OSR, it looks old skool but there's something totally different under the hood.
  • People don't include Traveller in the OSR? I mean come on, how many of you were alive in 1977?
  • Posted By: Matt WilsonPeople don't include Traveller in the OSR? I mean come on, how many of you were alive in 1977?
    The Old School Renaissance (OSR) is pretty heavily focused on D&D, partly because of the d20 OGL content that made a lot of the retro-cloning possible. Other RPGs of the era come up (James Maliszewski talks about Traveller all the time), but none of them benefit from being open content, ergo, there's no big DIY publishing effort re-invigorating those games, with a few exceptions (like the Tekumel Foundation). Ergo, less passionate discussion and product-creation.

    In addition, classic Traveller never really went away, I think, as the reprints have been available for a long time now; long before the OSR started.

    That, and Mark Miller is still alive. :)
  • Doesn't Stars Without Number show a pretty strong Traveller influence?

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