The OSR: Shorthand and Pointless Arguments

 Ever since it first burst onto the scene in the early 2000s, the OSR (Old School Revolution, Renaissance, Revival, whatever your preferred "R" might be), it's been something of a hotbed of debate. Originally, the debate was just "what does it mean?" and later it got into even more divisive (and tiny) topics like, "What specific editions of D&D does the OSR represent," and even, "Can games besides D&D be part of the OSR?"

Now, here we are, in 2022, and the debate has gotten even more violent and filled with vitriol because a certain loud section of people on social media have decided that the OSR are all right-wing bigots. Why? Quite simply, because one or two publishers in the old school scene have espoused right wing beliefs, which clearly then makes the rest of us all right wing, in their eyes. 

This level of absolutism, quite frankly, is ridiculous. Let's look at what the OSR is and is not, and hopefully take a step towards dumping these stupid accusations and arguments altogether. It might be a pipe dream, but I think it's an important one. 

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What Is the OSR?

I don't want to rehash the old debate. I've written blogs on this issue before over at my Wasted Lands blog. The OSR is not in any way an organized movement or group. It's nothing more than shorthand for old school games, and what constitutes an "OSR" game is wide open to the interpretation of the individual doing the interpreting. Some people are even starting to consider 3.x games as "old school," though I dareasy most of us draw the line somewhere in the late 80s to mid-90s. 

The OSR can mean either retro-clones which try to faithfully (to varying degrees) recreate the mechanics of older versions of games (and not just D&D - versions of the old FASERIP system, the TSR Conan RPG, and others have also been done). It can also mean games that simply try to replicate the feel and play style of these games, sometimes overlapped with modern mechanics (often called "nostalgia games"). It can also be anywhere in between. 

Arguing about the OSR and what it is, quite frankly, is stupid and pointless. There's no organization to it. It's not an actual movement. It's shorthand for an explosion of interest in old-school gaming that blew up early in the 2000s, died off a bit, and settled into a group of gamers who take pride in using it as an identification regarding their preferred gaming style. 

The OSR, quite simply, is shorthand and nothing more. Some folks would like it to be more, but it's really not, in any practical way. 

What Isn't the OSR?

Socio-Political. The OSR is not in any way political. It's not a political movement, it's not a social movement. It doesn't automatically mean adopting the socio-political attitudes of the 1970s or 80s along with a play style. Nor does it represent the socio-political views of any wide swath of people. At my table we play games old and new. I've gamed with progressives, conservatives, centrists, and everywhere along the spectrum in both old school and new school games. 

It's perfectly fine to believe that it's a person's moral obligation to call out bad behavior, and perhaps it is. What it is not okay to do, is assume that everyone who uses the same shorthand for their preferred style of game has the same points of view on issues that have nothing to do with gaming. 

Arguing what the OSR as a movement should do about a few idiot loudmouths is pointless, because, again, The OSR is not an organized movement in any regrd whatsoever. I think the majority of people who use this shorthand have been pretty clear that they don't support racism, bigotry, or hate - just because a hateful person claims they are part of the OSR, doesn't mean everyone who is part of the OSR is that way. 

What Does All This Mean?

There are a lot of younger people who have been indoctrinated to believe that the entire old school movement are a bunch of angry old grognards who hate anyone that isn't a fellow old grognard, and have horrible stances on current issues. Nothing could be further from the truth. You can certainly find those people in the community, but they can also be found among any section of the gaming community. Bad people are bad people. They're found everywhere. They also tend to be the loudest, which is unfortunate but also true. What's worse is when bad people think they're the good people, and that can be found on both sides of the aisle, screaming into echo chambers of outrage.

If you have the chance to play an old school game, don't be put off by the rumors you've heard about the movement as a whole being attached to certain political points of view. Most games and most designers have no such compunctions and hold no such beliefs. Just dive in and play. You'll find that the only real difference between an old school game and a new one is a different approach to play itself. It has zero to do with social or political attitudes, and while sometimes certain outdated ideas are baked into the original versions of these games, they can be seen as an unpleasant historic anachronism that is also easily removed and ignored. 

Gaming is about exploring new characters, new stories, in new ways. Skipping out on an entire section of role playing experience because of prejudicial views on what you think it might be can rob you of valuable and enriching experiences. 

In short, ignore the pundits and faceless voices on the Internet. Just go and play. You might be surprised. 

If you're not sure where to start, why not check out Night Shift: Veterans of the Supernatural Wars? It's a Rosetta Stone that can open the door to your old school gaming, unlocking understanding of how just about every edition works. Get your copy today!


  1. As an addendum, I was only today informed about a specific game whose writer was outed a few years ago as one of those abhorrent folks. In the interest of avoiding scandal, I shan't mention that specific game or the publisher, but please understand that my encouragement to play an old school game was NOT IN ANY WAY DIRECTED AT THAT SPECIFIC GAME. What that author did was open, blatant, and unforgivable. I was speaking in a general sense: don't eschew old school games just because you heard old school games are of a certain socio-political bent. Most of them aren't.

  2. Good points worth repeating now and then.
    Guilt by association does not tend to be a reliable compass to steer by... I've played with plenty of people I disagree with on plenty of topics, except games.
    Even though there are people on all sides of the political divides who I find odious, I try to not judge other people who might work or play with them.


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