The OSR identity crisis

Many of us here on this forum follow the TTRPG discussion on Twitter. And, because Twitter can get aggressive, and highlights hot takes and extreme views, many of us prefer this forum as their platform for RPG discussion.

I like that, here, discussion isn’t dictated by trends of social media outrage, but I do want to comment on the ongoing discussion. Sometimes I want to speak out on other platforms, but fear angering people. I’m not an influencer, but the idea of being blocked or shouted at by creators I admire terrifies me.

So when indie TTRPG influencers are calling out to cancel (or “fuck”) the OSR I’m not quite sure what to think.

On one hand, I understand the need to disassociate oneself from the stigma of OSR, brought on by the problematic people associated with the term over the years (up to present day). For people who are only familiar with the OSR via scandals or hearsay it can be baffling why people would go on using the term when, to them, it is synonymous with bigotry and little else.

On the other hand, I find the play styles and the design principles associated with acronym OSR very attractive. I like the DIY culture, I like the focus on layout and usability. I like random tables. I like hacking. I like short rules-light systems and the philosophy of rulings over rules. I like looking at old systems and seminal works of TTRPG history, even when they are problematic, and seeing if there’s anything there I can use today.

The OSR community on the whole has been a positive place for me. The discussions on this forum have been great, and the respectable part of OSR-adjacent Twitter has been quick to shut down bigotry, and routinely promotes marginalised creators.

However, if the term “OSR” has become too tainted with uncomfortable associations for the wider audience, I totally understand and respect creators’ unwillingness to associate their products with the term, because it could hurt their business. I understand and respect individuals who wish not to be associated with the term, even if they share some of the creative values behind that term.

But about people (like myself, I’m sad to say) who still subscribe to most of what OSR stands for (rules-light systems, sandbox playstyles, DIY etc) but are discouraged from using it, either because of outside pressure or internal reflection?

Should another word be invented? I don’t think that would work, because it would be defined as “what the OSR is calling itself now”.

Should we then not define ourselves at all, instead existing within the greater indie TTRPG community, even if we can’t then find people who agree with us about high lethality, the art of Larry Elmore, the superiority of unbalanced encounters or xp-for-gold?

I don’t think the people dissing the OSR are necessarily wrong or right. Mostly, I think we’re a good bunch, but some things still need fixing. I personally enjoy the darker side of RPGs (and very much embrace moral ambiguity in my home games) but I do think the OSR still has a blind spot for LotFP as a publisher, and I think that needs to change.

I like the OSR Pit, and the people I’ve met here, and I’m gonna keep coming around, chatting to people and working on the zine thing, which is one my favorite things on the internet right now.



Just play what you like and forget about the rest. Let’s get back to rolling dice, 'eh?

LotFP publishes some awesome stuff and some crappy stuff. Play what you like and don’t play what you don’t.


Thank you for sharing and that’s very well-put. Sometimes I think the crises come largely from the clash between the OS and the R. That is, those who want a return to the halcyon days of old-school yore and those who want to remix/diy/embrace revolution. That’s an inherent tension in the movement though I don’t think it explains all the douche-banjos that infect the OSR.

It’s interesting about LotFP. Whatever slack I cut them, they lost when Zak rejoined the forum. I don’t want to castigate Zzarchov, Chandler, Hite, and the other writers who just need a publisher. But for me, Raggi is not worthy of further support. Particularly now that they are aggressively proselytizing. Plus, Mork Borg is a thing now–you can have grimdark without all the Raggi-mifications.


I don’t (I lost my Twitter password, and any interest towards that platform, some time around 2014) and I find this kind of discussion interesting because not only it happens about once a year, but it always starts and ends on Twitter. In fact, most of the times, it only takes place on Twitter and I learn of it after the fact.

What I’m trying to say is that this discussion has somehow become a tradition in the OSR-adiacent Twitter sphere. It happens, sometimes people seem to reach a consensus on what to do, and after that everybody keeps doing what they were doing before. The thing is so traditional that somebody even gave it stats to use it in your adventures (as a general rule, that post already says what has to be said on this issue, because it addresses its last iteration).

It has already been done. They are now lost to memory (I remember the only one I really liked, “Sword dream”, but I don’t think many do). In the end, OSR is some kind of brand and most of people just stick with the brand they know.

In the end, this discourse is going to happen, stay confined on Twitter more often than not, and nobody is going to act or learn anything from it. And, after a few months, is going to happen again. It’s one of the reasons I’ve yet to bother finding my Twitter password.


Well put, I haven’t really been involved with the OSR scene (really this site/forum is my only interaction) and I haven’t seen or heard the Twitter outcry about the OSR lately (and I couldn’t care less for some of their reactions).

I’m all for creative expression and showcasing the oddity/weird/insanity that the OSR has to offer, but LotFP is kind of my limit of that (especially from what I’ve heard related to the rulesets creation, art choices, and the creator’s general attitude) and a property I’m more than likely going to pass by espeacily since Mörk Borg is out now and something I’m more likely to use as a GM.

I honestly think we need to focus on building each other up as a community. Not saying we aren’t encouraging to one another (this is the most encouraging forum I know), but we should always try to extend a helping hand or a constructive comment to anyone in the scene since that’s the only way we can get better and leave the wrong doing behind.

Just my two cents as a whole.


I agree with OP for the most part.

I have never had/used Twitter and every day I am more grateful for that, because schisms/back and forth negative and spiraling discussions about OSR or even bread-baking for that matter, seem to be a mainstay and perhaps even a feature (“engagement”) of many large Social Media platforms, rather than a bug.

For myself it is pretty simple: if a publisher or creator is someone I do not want to support by my own metrics and morals, I don’t. As in I would make sure they never get a penny for me. If a product is made by a decent to great person or company, and it is a really good product, I am very likely to buy (even if I already have the PDF) and recommend it to several people. But what I do not do is try to create more division or a fracturing of the entire creative OSR scene by adding more names/confusion. Or, by publicly shaming and disavowing anyone and everyone (peripherally) involved in the scene. Especially not based on a vague and very hard to quantify notion that “because 2% to even 20% of prominent persons or creators in the scene are rotten people the entire name and hobby is suspect”.

It is a problem, it needs addressing but I don’t think a name change or a wholesale boycott of all things OSR, nor debating it on Twitter, will lead to any factual and worthwhile improvement.

Hell, even this or other discussions on the (dark side of the) OSR here, on this forum which is long-form and allows discussions to be to easily found years after a post is made, are more likely to offer something substantive than Twitter.



“Oh, you listen to [genre of music]? That’s gross, there was an artist last year from [genre of music] who did [actually terrible thing]. How could you??”

But of course that’s all been said before. And it will all be said again. And again. And again.


I really couldn’t care less what other people think of the “OSR” or what interpretations they find in those three letters. I’ll continue to buy the games I’d like to play and hopefully my friends will stay with me to enjoy them. Part of the reason why I got into this scene is because I initially believed it to be play-centric and not about weird community navel-gazing, I was proven wrong as you can imagine.

I am not willing to defend Raggi as a person but I’ll defend Lamentations the publishing company. They pay fairly, are willing to hear new pitches, value high printing quality, give royalties and allow for an incredible creative freedom to all writers. Sometimes this works out well (Veins of the Earth), sometimes it does not (Blood in the Chocolate). I am glad we have a publisher up for the task, bad reputation or not. That’s a reason for me not to dismiss them. I wouldn’t know of anyone else who does this.


I only just noticed this discussion from an automated OSR Pit message.

My last blog entry, “The Many Deaths of the OSR,” shows that OSR participants have been talking about the “death of the OSR” for nine years. There’s no reason to be indignant at non-OSR people putting down the OSR when OSR participants have been attacking each other for a decade. This is easily documented.

Some may take the long-term “death of the OSR” as an indication that it will survive through thick and thin. Others may take it as a sign of a moribund movement past its expiration date.

I wrote that entry without knowing anything about hostility toward the OSR on Twitter (which I don’t use) or anywhere else. The first I heard about anti-OSR mean tweets was from this.

Since I got back into table-top role-playing games, I have been fascinated with the OSR because it includes a lot of fun stuff mixed together false claims. There is a lot of B.S. mixed in with the creativity. Why can’t we just have the creativity without the posturing about the right way to have “original-style” fun? I’m sure a lot of you feel the same. But it’s become more complicated, because there is now a lot of “OSR” stuff I would not touch with a ten-foot pole, nor would I steer my kids towards it. It’s a hazard for my play-group, not a benefit. The skeezy side of the OSR drives me and young players away from the OSR.

My conclusion is that nobody needs “the OSR” to play in ways identified as “OSR.” And nobody needs the political spats. We can just play our games and drop the labels. You don’t need “OSR” to roll for wandering monsters, to laugh about TPK, or to invent new tweaks to old D&D rules. You just don’t need the label. Play the game the way you like, the way people always have. If anything is “old-school,” it is playing as you want. We did not have OSR in the old days. Nobody is going to stop you from using old D&D rules, and new rules masquerading as old D&D rules, and weird adventures written for those rules–and that is basically what the OSR produced.

In short, what Oni said (first paragraph) makes perfect sense to me.

You don’t need to buy WotC products and you don’t need to buy “OSR” products. I thought this was supposed to be DIY.

We had rules-light systems and open-ended campaigns and “DIY” gamemasters in the '70s, the '80s, the '90s… These existed side-by-side with rules-heavy systems, linear adventures, and purchased TSR modules. They coexisted in the same hobby.

My unsolicited advice for committed OSR players is to try games that are not D&D. The whole OSR discussion orbits tastes about D&D editions. There is so much more to TTRPGs than this or that edition of D&D.

The main thing I want to say, though, is this, addressing SunkenPlanets’ original post and the question in it. Those who want a better name already have it. The name of the hobby has been Fantasy Role-Playing Games. That’s the only name you need. Somehow “OSR” hijacked a division of gamers in the last twelve years, and this is where it has led.

Fantasy Role-Playing Games.


I prefer just GAMES


Neither “games” nor “Fantasy Role-Playing Games” are good descriptors, though: a player who enjoys an OSR style of play won’t be able to recognise a game sporting those labels as something they might enjoy because those are used by a vast amount of other unrelated stuff.


would you agree that “OSR style of play” has a different connotations for everyone?

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Yes, and the borders are blurry, but there is a still huge amount of fantasy role-playing games that no one would consider as having an OSR style of play, and even more games in general.


does a game need to be labeled OSR to be played in an OSR style?

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No, but it will sure help the game find its public if it is labelled correctly instead of just advertising it as a game and nothing else. Just like a game doesn’t need to be labelled as science-fiction to take place in the far future with advanced technology, but doing so will greatly help players know easily what it’s about.


my point here is that imho you can play any game with an OSR style, even those that aren’t explicit about being OSR.


Max has a good point. You can play any game with cross-applied OSR principles. I’m not an OSR player at all, but I’d bet that committed OSR players would look in on my games and say they were on the same wavelength as me.

But Whidou, you make a very good point, too, and you’re not alone in making it. Nobody who specifically wants to see a heavy metal show is going to show up if it’s billed as just “a live music performance.”

All the same, I think gamers look at game products and they know what they are looking for. Probably you would not buy something just because it says OSR, but you’d take a closer look and see if it has the features you want. As Max suggests by his questions, the OSR label means so many different things now that we have reached the point that you probably have to say what you mean by OSR as it is. And if calling it OSR is turning some new players away (as it is doing), then probably some other kind of descriptions will work better and be more accurate, too.

I can think of descriptions that would work, depending on what is emphasized: old D&D rules, rules-light fantasy, dungeon fantasy, dungeon procedure adventure, emergent setting materials, high-risk, D&D retroclone, open-ended adventure setting (“sandbox”), and more. This kind of descriptor will flag “OSR” contents without invoking an increasingly contentious decade of OSR baggage.

The guy from the Detect Magic blog told me on my blog that the scene is now Post-OSR: we’re POSRs (har har). What he meant is that the scene has fragmented and is moving on to apply the OSR principles in new ways and he expects lots of fresh stuff to appear in these new directions. I guess this will happen and the world will move on, because nothing lasts. I think it’s already happening.

Another way to say what I’m saying is that it’s only an OSR identity crisis if we identify with it.


It’s been great reading all the replies. I was feeling pretty anxious about my hobby when I wrote the original post, but reading all the replies, my mind feels a bit clearer. (Well, you folks will be the judge of that.)

I think maybe problems arise when we try to define “OSR” too perfectly. People might have this idea of an “OSR” that they could identify with, if only some of its elements were changed or eliminated… And those elements are different for everyone. So, arguments ensue.

My rekindled passion (as a 34 year-old) for RPGs came from watching Youtube videos about the “OSR play style”, reading and running books like Raggi’s Death Frost Doom or Patrick Stuart’s Veins of the Earth, going through old blog posts. I kept falling in love with almost every OSR-related thing I read (Wormskin, Barrowmaze, Mothership, Troika…), so “OSR” sort of became an identity for me. I felt I was an “OSR gamer” instead of some other sub-type of roleplayer. So when I started learning about all the nasty stuff about my new favorite people, hearing other RPG people dissing OSR, and seeing people I associated with OSR turn their backs at it (often in frustrated, angry tones), it felt like a personal blow. Something I had invested a lot of energy in, was crumbling away.

Of course, none of the important stuff - the games, the ideas, the art - was going anywhere. OSR wasn’t hurting, I was.

I liked a lot about what @lichvanwinkle said. OSR describes many of the features I like about my RPGs, but I don’t need a label to play or write games in that fashion.

The label is great for finding cool people, cool places like this forum, and cool products I’ll probably like. And if I don’t wear it like a badge that defines me, I think I’ll be okay.

edit: Just as I posted this, lichvanwinkle posted again, saying basically what this whole post was saying:


SunkenPlanets, I’m with you. I really like a lot of the OSR-labelled stuff, but the nasty stuff, as you put it, and the political spats, and the hate, make me balk. Because of my age, I have the additional hurdle of constantly feeling the need to say, “Well, actually, the OSR doesn’t really represent how it used to be, but at best it’s only a reflected slice of gaming in the old days… So, it’s fun, but the term OSR is a misnomer…” Which I’m sure gets annoying!

I do think that OSR players will need to drop the name. I think it doesn’t matter that it should not need to be changed. Never mind our principles about how it should be. At the current rate, it’s going to get to the point that if you roll for wandering monsters, you’ll get called a white nationalist whose hobby is rape, and if you refuse to roll for wandering monsters, you must be an “SJW” snowflake who wants to abolish banks. (Sarcasm.)

We want fantasy adventures to escape this nonsense, but we track the mud on our boots into the dungeons with us. How do we wipe those boots clean? A laborious cleaning process or a new pair?


I’m against dropping the name for three reasons:

  1. Practically, the “OSR” label or brand is extremely helpful in finding cool things. I don’t like to identify as a “OSR gamer” (although I love the sound and history of “grognard”), but when something is labeled as a “OSR game” I know it will have at least some characteristics which pique my interest. This also goes for groups and communities: an “OSR community” will probably discuss things I’m interested in, while a “Jeepform community” or a “generic fantasy RPG community” are of less interest for me.
  2. As I said above, changing the name has already been tried and not only it didn’t work, every proposed name kept out some part of what “OSR gaming” is about. Most ideas cut out the sci-fi scene, others some ruling aspects. And everybody who is interested in one of the aspects left out won’t adopt the new name. In the end, between those rebels and the normal attrition to name change, nobody adopts the new name.
  3. I really don’t want to surrender a name I somewhat like to people I totally dislike. < Insert a long rant with profanities of your choice >.