The OSR identity crisis

I agree. As long as it is useful, use it. But will you not let go of “OSR” when people start thinking ill of you by association, however unfair that is? Or do you defy them all?

All the same, the name “Fantasy Role-Playing Games” always included sci fi, Wild West, post-apocalyptic, investigative, and every other genre. The name is there for you when you need it.


I don’t think so. To me, the emphasis should be on the “OS” and less on the “R”; the latter seems to be where most of the in-fighting and toxicity exists. As others have pointed out, “OSR” is useful for finding cool game materials, but if what one enjoys is the old-school style of play, one can ignore all of that.

Hi, Dan!

I think that there is a problem with the OS, “old-school,” in OSR. What people call “old-school” is only one small set of role-playing practices from the old days. A lot of things that are definitely not considered “old-school” today were fully present in the old days. A lot of things now considered “old-school” were not normal or widespread back then. So it’s not really an issue that arouses toxicity, but it is basically misleading and has the side-effect of hiding a lot of old games from view. I can give you more along these lines if you are interested, but to me, the OS is a bigger problem than the R.

We can all enjoy games together, regardless. :slight_smile:

I’m going to preface this by saying I don’t mind what social media thinks about the OSR. My involvement is for me, not for Twitter. Getting outraged over things we read on the internet is an entirely different game and not one I care to interface with.

That said, it seems like wasted energy to try convincing ‘them’ that we’re not bad people. It doesn’t matter what we say, or what we call ourselves. Words are easy. No-one who is already suspicious of us is going to be convinced.

So my answer would be ‘play good games with good people and let the rest sort itself out’. Does that sound glib? Maybe it is, but if we live our principles, reasonable people will see that and change their minds. Unreasonable people were always going to believe what they wanted.


I don’t think it’s fair to say most problems are in the “r.” While there are certain notorious individuals there, the gatekeeping and grognarding definitely comes from the OS. Neither side is blameless.

It’s annoying to deal with, especially as a creator, and that’s why I think @SunkenPlanets query about how to proceed is so valuable. A lot of great people have left “the scene” because of the stigma. But on the other hand, every community has infighting. Comic book fans, Tolkien fans, you name it. Hell, I’ve been vegan for 25 years and I don’t belong to a single online group because, you know, drama.


Not to toss a log on this fire, but there have been multiple attempts at renaming/forking the OSR (as other folks have already mentioned). There is SWORD*DREAM, F.R.O.G, and NSR.

I came into the OSR post he-who-shall-not-be-named’s departure; before then, he and his cohort made me feel very unwelcome, directly or indirectly. Personally I see this as a defining moment in the OSR “Community”.

Sidenote: I have no interest in actual old school D&D or retroclones (including the wonderful OSE!) For a variety of reasons. What I like is the lessons learned from those games, as well as storygames and other indie RPGs (BOSR!). I don’t connect at all with the “this is how we did it back then” sort of history lessons that people frequently write about; I’m happy those folks have a rich scene, however.

What I prefer are games they borrow from multiple “scenes”: Electric Bastionland, Troika!, Maze Rats, Microscope, World of Dungeons, etc etc. The OSR has produced some incredible content which I heavily pursue, but compatibility with Old School systems is irrelevant to me. Yet I still consider myself an active participant in the OSR! If there were a label I’d associate myself with however it would be NSR, as described by this post.


It’s not a log on the fire. It’s your point of view! :slight_smile: I have met a bunch of (mostly younger) gamers who see things the way you do. My gaming is quite in line with what you describe, though I’m less into “weird worlds.” I described this somewhere as a “second wave” of OSR-oriented players. Because OSR has mostly meant retroclones, though, a new name such as “NSR” seems very much appropriate to describe this new, post-retroclone phenomenon (though maybe revolution is too strong a word).

Basically, what I see is gamers taking the principles abstracted from the study of old D&D editions, by contrast with later D&D editions, and applying them further to old D&D editions and retroclones and coming up with something that pushes more in that direction away from 4e/5e. The result is new adventure games that have more in common with highly rules-light '80s systems like Fighting Fantasy than with most other games.

Have you seen the Tiny D6 games, like Tiny Dungeon D6? You might add that to the list. It won my sister and my nieces over.

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Yes I have seen/read TinyD6. I like it, but (if you can believe it) it was too crunchy for me! It also reminded me a lot of minimald6, a game I have hacked to pieces (and maintain a database for).

As to Weird, I wrote a little about that on my blog.

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Thank you for the links. This is all quite interesting. Hard to believe that TinyD6 is too crunchy for anybody… The reason my son won’t play it is that there isn’t enough going on.

May I share that link to your database elsewhere?

Yes, I specifically did not like the initiative system. Which is less of a crunch problem and more of a personal preference. I suppose I could tack on something I like, but it’s so minimal that I didn’t really seem worth it. For what it’s worth, games like Tunnel Goons are probably too “rules light” for me!

My preferred system is Into The Odd, and I also maintain the Syllabus for that system.

You can share that link anywhere. I hope to make something similar for the 60+ hacks of Into The Odd someday.

PS: I’ve been reading your blog since the beginning, I like it a lot!


Going by the lessons of the satanic panic, I think the answer is, yes, defy them all. Deciding that a particular hobby or genre is tainted isn’t something the majority of people have much time for, nor are those who do have time for it particularly worthy of attention.

In fact there’s an overlap with the satanic panic here - both the BADD and “fuck the OSR” individuals are to some extent moral entrepreneurs, who use dunking on things as a source of authority and social status.

If they aren’t treated as serious arbiters of right and wrong then they’re likely to give up. Twitter is rife with this kind of behavior because it provides a constant supply of positive reinforcement for it.


That’s a sound answer to my question, and one I respect.

There is, however, an important difference between the Bible-thumping finger-wagging of BADD and the “f the OSR” people (which, I gather, is on Twitter). The former group had no idea how the games worked and could not comprehend them, imagining crimes against law and morality where there were none. The latter group is (I assume!) made up of gamers who, however sanctimoniously, want to wash their hands of a scene beset by lots of negativity, to put it euphemistically. I mean, there is at least one major OSR figure not allowed to be discussed here. That’s not a normal situation. As I have looked into it, I found that OSR gamers have been their own worst enemies, attacking each other for years, creating a scene of strife, and getting accused of foulness within their own ranks. A few tweets saying “f the OSR” is nothing compared to what OSR gamers have said and done to each other. So in this way it’s quite different from the Satanic Panic.

I’m not an OSR gamer, though I like to learn about it and to talk with other gamers. My point of view is that the scene did become tainted, in the sense that there was a lot of toxic behavior, of the kind to which SunkenPlanets was referring above. I think this because plenty of OSR gamers have said so, never mind tweets. I happen also to think also that the OSR always has had a false premise, but I also acknowledge that nobody is likely to care what I think and I am sincerely happy if people are having fun playing their way.

I hope you’re right that the bad can just be ignored until it goes away. But with “the OSR scene” fragmented into internet communities that launch insults at each other (unlike this one, it seems), I don’t see time as a remedy.

In any case, I’m sure we agree that tweets on Twitter will not be our moral compass!


It’s my impression that the people who are gamers uncomfortable with the negativity and weird behavior of the RPG scene are just quiet and don’t engage - if something looks sketchy you just stay away - while the people who are outspoken about “F the OSR” are fully engaged with it and seeking the power to define it. Instead of good Christian moms scapegoating gamers, it’s one group of gamers picking on another.

I think the online RPG scene as a whole has been very weird for the last 20 years - a decade ago I remember looking askance at and not wanting to go there because it seemed rather cursed, and a decade before that we had the “Geek Social Fallacies” doing the rounds, presenting a theory of why RPG spaces were prone to drama and weird abusive personalities.

I don’t think the OSR scene is particularly bad by the standards of RPG communities - most of the people I’ve encountered have been perfectly nice. But it does seem to serve as a lightning rod for a lot of aggression of the wider RPG community because it’s easy to dunk on for various reasons.

In any case, there’s no real need to remedy people shouting at each other online. It’s not something we have control over, it’s baked into the design of social media to some extent, and it’s not something we have to spend our time engaging with.

We’re adults and if people want to play stupid games for stupid prizes we are not obliged to join in.

Yes, sometimes that means we might have to explain to people what we are and are not; but as people with a fairly esoteric and sometimes maligned hobby that was always necessary.


Valinard, everything you say makes sense to me!

When I recently returned to role-playing games, I had been basically unaware of the online RPG scene and I had never used social media. I had stopped playing around the time the internet really took off among the public. Imagine my shock at what I found upon returning. You mention gamers picking on gamers, and that’s exactly how I see it.

I’m sure you’re right that the OSR doesn’t have a monopoly on stupid social games. There do seem to be some outstanding malefactors, though, which may explain the lightning rod characteristic you pointed out. The political splitting doesn’t help, either.

“Very weird,” as you say! I’d like to blame social media, too.

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Well … folks have said everything there is to say, I think :).

My personal views follow a simple spiral:

  1. OSR is a genre of gaming in the same way metal is a genre of music – very broad, loose, diffuse, and quite alive.
  2. some OSR creators insist their games aren’t OSR, just like Lemmy from Motorhead insisted Motorhead was rock not metal.
  3. some folks, whether by definition loosely within the OSR or not, act like it is a community, not a genre – just like some metalheads think there is a global metalhead community, even if not really.
  4. a partly overlapping subset of folks thinks that the OSR is evil and bad because it doesn’t excise and burn bad actors – just like there are neo-nazi metalheads – and that all the OSR should be burned to the ground.
  5. on social media (Twitter!) making hot takes, taking the moral high ground, and generating outrage creates visibility and popularity. So people do that. About both metal (is metal permanently tainted by Burzum?) and OSR (is OSR permanently tainted by Fundit and Sak?).
  6. Some folks, third subset or something, finds it appealing to fight hard against a manageable foe (bad person X in my hobby! community bad, abandon it!) rather than against the grand challenges of our time, which are too big for any individual to tackle alone (global warming, rising inequality, pandemic). So they take transgression X in small hobby Y very very seriously.

And my conclusion?

Well, dunno. Life goes on. Go for a walk.


On a historical note, the OSR was invented in 2008. Self-identified OSR participants have been talking about an “OSR community” since 2010, at least. It shows up in that year in scare quotes suggesting it’s a neologism (“the “OSR community””), along with blog entries like this one. Here, in March of 2010, the author argues against people who say there’s no “OSR community” by pointing to the collaborative help he received in dealing with the calculation of odds in Chainmail and OD&D. This suggests both that it was a new idea then and that some people did not yet accept its existence.

In 2011, the expression became widespread and you start to see non-OSR gamers commenting on “the OSR community.” Scare quotes disappear.

The history of the expression doesn’t mean that you have to agree that there is a community, but there are, evidently, degrees of identification with it. Some feel more at stake than others. If people saying that they are part of a community makes it real, there has been an OSR community for ten years. Once you have a community, you get problems like the ones under discussion.

I had a recent blog post on the history of saying that “the OSR is dead” and the vitriol around the OSR. (The answer is that people have been saying it for nine years.) The comments section literally turned into a fight about whether 4e is terrible or can be used to support OSR play-styles. You can’t make this stuff up.

Me? I’ll take that walk that WizardFighterThief suggested (or, actually, go trim the hedge).


I dunno.

What interests me is an “old school” style of play. But that’s all it is to me: a style of play. It’s the way I played as a kid, and it’s all about a certain type of pulp atmosphere and minimalism.

The “R” part to me is a proxy for “community”. But I’m not a member of that community nor do I particularly care about it, posting here notwithstanding. Well, and I do appreciate the revised rulesets, particularly LL, OSE, S&W and Blueholme (thanks to the people who put those together).

But the rest I can live without. For example I tried to watch a youtube video about something OSR-related the other day and it started out ok, talking about game mechanics or whatever, but then got off a weird political rant. I don’t care about the creator’s views on politics, so I turned it off.

What I’m trying to say is that playing Holmes basic or AD&D 1e doesn’t mean that I’m doing anything other than playing Holmes basic or AD&D 1e.


I wish we could rap people over their knuckles with a ruler when they try to bring real-world politics into games, but that seems to be the filter people see the universe through these days.

I have no problem with people bringing politics into games; in fact I would argue that neither do you, either. What people usually mean when they say “keep politics out of games” is that they don’t like other people’s politics in their games. If you have monarchs, war, racism (even about made-up races) then you have politics in your game! And that’s totally fine for most people - in fact, it’s an easy story trope to hang your coat on.

Now, there is a difference between forcing a particular political philosophy into a discussion, and critiquing a trend within game design. For instance, I personally see a lot of Defaultism in the TTRPG space. A lot of people I’ve GMed for assume a certain appearance and gender, unless I explicitly describe the NPC or whatever as being non-white/male. This isn’t a big deal in my games, but as a non-White person I do notice that, and think it’d be cool if we had more settings which imply a different “default.” There are only a few people doing that sort of thing in the TTRPG scene, though some of them are doing incredible work!

I think if those conversations could happen - without the hanging spectre of being “cancelled” - we could all benefit from some interesting and unique modules and games!


I totally agree with this. Every choice is political but some only notice it when it deviates from the status quo. I enjoy examining colonialism’s legacy in D&D or even the status of orcs and other evil races, but I just wish such conversations had less vitriol and more nuance.