Thursday, August 26, 2010

Arguing Myself into the OSR

If you’ve been reading my previous posts you know that despite the fact that I’ve been gaming for nearly a quarter of a century most of my gaming history consists of Silver Age D&D and beyond (Mentzer’s Basic D&D, 1e, 2e, 3e, 3.5e, Pathfinder, etc.). I’ve played lots of other games in lots of other systems but each one seemed to lead me further and further away from the old school roots of the hobby.

In considering the OSR there were several concerns I’ve been thinking through. Below are some of the initial objections I had and some of my own conclusions.

The Nostalgia Factor: Do I really want to return to the roots of D&D, warts and all, or is it just some misguided attempt to recapture my youth?

My Conclusion: Yes, I want to return to the roots. It isn’t, however, some ill conceived attempt to feel young again or assuage some gnawing wistfulness. I love my life now and have no real reason to want to recapture my youth (I’m only in my 30s). In fact, lots of things happened when I was younger I’d never want to recapture. But when it comes to gaming, I want to recapture the fun I had when I first started playing which means returning to the way I used to play. Thus far, I’m finding that the way I used to play (and the way I want to play again) is best supported by the earliest incarnations of D&D/AD&D (and their various clones).

The Curmudgeon Factor: Do I really prefer the older editions of D&D/AD&D or am I just opposed to change/learning new systems?

My Conclusion: I think most people are opposed to change to a degree. Still, the fact that I willingly switched from basic D&D to AD&D, then 1st edition to 2nd edition, then 2nd edition to 3rd edition, then 3rd edition to 3.5, then 3.5 to Pathfinder (with lots of other games sprinkled in) shows I’m not averse to change. In fact, switching from my most recent system of choice (Pathfinder) back to early editions of D&D or AD&D will be more of a change than anything I’ve done in a long time. Sure, it’s going back to something I once knew well, but its returning to something I haven’t been involved in for over twenty years. Truth be told, It’d be easier to stick with more modern games (since the systems are fresh in my head, the games are more readily available/supported, players are easier to find, etc.) but I’m out to find fun not a trouble-free experience.

The Completeness Factor: What about all the “holes” in older systems of D&D/AD&D? If I’m going to have to house-rule on things not included in the early editions of the game why not stick with a version which already has the rulings included?

My Conclusion: Assuming that older versions of the game have “holes” in them has been sounding more and more like circular reasoning to me of late. I’ve been unconsciously setting up more complex versions of the game (especially 3.0 and beyond) as the standard, then looking at the alleged things missing in older versions of D&D/AD&D and thinking them inferior on account.

But the more I think about it the less compelling I find that line of reasoning. If Wizards of the Coast came out with a version of D&D tomorrow that included complex rules on eating, bathing, shaving, smoking, etc., that doesn’t mean it’d be correcting “holes” in previous editions. Why? Because folks like me who’ve gone on to later editions of the game never needed such rules in the first place. In fact, I think we’d argue that they unnecessarily complicate things. Nobody needs such rules on a regular basis, and if they do come across a need for them, a quick house rule does nicely. I don’t need thousands of extra pages to sift through to handle things that will probably never come up in my games.

In short, just because something is more complex does not mean it’s necessarily more “complete.” Sure, it may have more rules, but are those rules necessary? In looking back at the thousands of pages of rpg materials I’ve accumulated over the years, I find that the books that tend to be most well-worn are my Basic D&D and 1e materials. Not because they’re older but because they saw more use when I played those systems. I have books from 3.X and Pathfinder that I looked at once, when I first bought them, but never again. They sit in pristine condition on my shelf because I never use them. I just don’t need them. The bottom line is that I’m finding that having rules for any and every situation just complicates things because: (1) I won’t use most of what’s presented. (2) When those rare situations may pop up it slows game play to find them. (3) A simple and agreed upon house ruling keeps things running smoothly and, most importantly, gets us right back to the game (and to the fun!). (4) Huge tomes filled with complex rules tend to turn people away from the hobby as opposed to bringing them in (my wife, for example, as noted in my previous post).

I have some other issues I’m still working though but most of those are just because of my own idiosyncrasies as opposed to being based on gaming philosophies. Also, I’d be remiss without expressing my thanks to James over at Grognardia for answering my email and helping me work through some of these issues!


  1. My group enjoys a smattering of games, including Labyrinth Lord, because of the simplicity of rules. We aren't all grognards or diehards, some players just don't have a lot of spare time and simpler games are easier to play and run and get maximum enjoyment from without constantly consulting charts and tables. We also play CoC, Pathfinder and now Sorcery & Super Science! with a dash of games like vs. Monsters thrown in for good measure.

  2. Good for you,Kemosabe! The fewer the rules, the greater the possibilities!