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Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Sorry but There's no "4th Wave OSR" (yet)

So I've been meaning to get around to responding to this here, but other posts had taken up my attention until  now.  In response to my recent repost of a classic blog entry on the 3rd Wave of the OSR, maverick RPG-designer and Priest of Cthulhu (yes, that's a thing, somehow) Venger Satanis posted his own blog entry claiming that there is now a "4th Wave" in the OSR.

What does Venger think this 4th Wave consists of? Basically, products that in some way have some vague sense of 'old school feel' but do not have to actually follow any of the design rules of the OSR. That is, the systems they use are new-school rather than being derivations of the original D&D rule-sets.

Now, maybe someday there will be some kind of 4th wave of the OSR, one that no one has envisioned yet that injects some new kind of creativity into the OSR framework; but sorry, Venger's definition is not it.

What Venger is describing is neither a movement nor a part of the OSR at all.  It's just a way for people to try to shoehorn non-OSR products into the OSR.
It fails as a classification because all you're claiming is that it's "stuff that seems old-schoolish but with totally unrelated systems".  That means that those products that could fall under this don't have anything in common even with each other. Aside, that is, from a desire to benefit from the current popularity of OSR products.  You can almost claim that as a category, its commonality would be in trying to trick people into thinking they're getting an OSR product when they're not.

Take, for example, Dungeon World and Alpha Blue: two totally different systems. Two totally different settings. One is a storygame, the other a rules-light regular game. The only thing they have in common is that they're trying to worm their way into the OSR without being actual OSR games.

That doesn't make for a classification.

In what way can Alpha Blue claim to be OSR that Maid the RPG or My Life With Master or the latest Star Wars FFG boardgame/rpg could not claim to be so?
Because Venger said so? What would stop Luke Crane from claiming his latest Storygame about homosexual victorian-era latin professors discussing their mortality is OSR because he said so?
Venger might claim that the difference is that Alpha Blue tries to make claim to an old-school feel, but really the main way Alpha Blue has an 'old school feel' is that it is appealing to old-school sci-fi, being based as it is on a (smuttier) version of 1970s sci-fi. But again, by that logic something like Starblazer Adventures would be "OSR" in spite of being based on FATE.
Maid and My Life With Master obviously don't try to appeal to some kind of Old-School feel, but games like Dungeonworld or Torchbearer were made by the Storygame crowd to try to look as much as possible like OSR games while actually (deceptively, I would argue) fooling purchasers into getting a game that is almost the exact opposite of Old-school in terms of mechanics.
Alpha Blue's system is not as such Anti-OSR the way those storygamer-products are, but it is still not an old-school system.

The fundamental design framework of the OSR, system-wise, is starting with an old-school system and then heavily modifying it. That's a bit different than just making up a rules-system and calling it OSR.
One of the things that defines the OSR is that it is a Design Movement.  It says you have to play within a framework, of certain rules, of the old-school mechanics.  And then playing around with that to create totally new and different stuff. That's what's interesting and exciting about the OSR, and with 2nd and 3rd wave OSR products it results in games that, rather than being less creative somehow, are in fact challenged to produce something more creative yet highly playable, by testing it's designers to make something new and awesome while still painting within certain broad lines.
The point of the OSR is that it's all about innovation and creativity while following certain parameters.

That's why it's so interesting and so successful, because the restrictions on the design system oblige you not to go the lazy route of just making something up, but rather you have to figure out really creative ways of doing new things with old mechanics.   When you do that purely with system, that's 2nd wave. When you do it with setting, that's 3rd wave. When you just don't do it at all, it's not OSR.

Otherwise, if you get to just say that your thing is OSR, you get to the point where you're just diluting the definition into non-existence so that everyone can cash in on the bandwagon whether they have anything to do with it or not.

It's like claiming Blink 182 are Punk Rock.
Hell, it's like claiming One Direction are Punk Rock.


Currently Smoking: Mastro De Paja Bent Apple + Gawith's Commonwealth


  1. How disappointing...I had seen the name Star Blazers and thought it was a game based on the cartoon.

  2. Blink 182 and Punk Rock should not be in the same sentence, sir.

  3. Do you think those old-school design parameters are limited to early versions of D&D? For instance, if someone were to come out with a clone or near-clone of something like Marvel Super Heroes, Bunnies and Burrows, FASA Star Trek, or Chivalry and Sorcery? Those are definitely old-school games by dint of their publication dates, but are those design parameters you mention broad enough to include them?

    1. Seconded. Is a quasi-clone of Classic Traveller, such as the Cepheus Engine, OSR, in your eyes? It did to the Mongoose 2D6 SRD what many 2nd generation fantasy OSR games did to the D20 SRD - modified it to resemble an old-school game...

      Of course, you can also say that, in some ways, Mongoose Traveller 1E was also a quasi-clone of Classic Traveller. It definitely had a much stronger Classic Traveller flavor to it compared to Traveller: New Era, Traveller 4, Traveller T20, GURPS Traveller, or even MegaTraveller...

    2. I was asking myself the same thing. Ditto regarding Openquest (a Runequest neoclone) or Zweihänder (based on WFRP). And what about an hypothetical game that wouldn't be based on an old school system but manages to capture the spirit of the old days so that it feels like something from the 1970's ?

    3. I think all of those follow the same parameters of the OSR, only substituting other old-school games for D&D. Thus, they can be understood as related to the OSR. In fact, if there was a 4th Wave, that might be it. Doing what the 1st/2nd/3rd wave did but with other old-school systems.

    4. Fair enough! I think that puts things in better perspective, thanks.

    5. Well that's good cause I wrote a heartbreaker for Cyberpunk 2020 and I needed a genre name for it.

  4. "maverick RPG-designer and Priest of Cthulhu (yes, that's a thing, somehow) "

    The wizard calling out the Eldritch priest. Dis gon' be gud.

    1. Eh, in real occultism the line between 'priest' and 'wizard' is very blurry. In the medieval period prior to the 15th century the vast majority of people practicing magic were monks (because they had the time and books).

      I'm sure Venger is a magician as well as a priest, and I have collected quite a few 'priesthoods' (spiritual authority) in my time in a variety of religions.

      Of course, the more salient point is that I have the advantage that my gods aren't 20th-century make-believe. They're far older, more powerful make-believe.

    2. Older and more powerful than the Great Old Ones? Ha! Old and powerful is literally in their name. And who are we to claim what is make-believe?

      As for your original argument, "regular RPG" means traditional, right? So, the basic philosophy is similar, as opposed to every story-game ever made. I followed design parameters including old school D&D _and_ some other 80's RPGs... system, style, and aesthetics.

    3. The Great Old Ones were invented in the 1920s by a moderately-racist horror-writer.

      You want a real experience of Things Man Was Not Meant To Know? Try Ganesh. Jupiter. Krishna. To say nothing of the crossing of the Abyss, the taiji, the City of the Pyramids, the Tower of the Atheists that lies therein, and what lies beyond.

      And yes, no one is calling your game a Storygame. But nor does it follow the OSR structure.

    4. So you're not a fan of the "Lovecraft was subconsciously in touch with the Great Old Ones who inspired his stories" theory? ;-)

      There's a whole "Starry Wisdom" tradition in the Temple of Set that will be disappoint.

    5. Indeed, Joseph Bloch refers to the idea that Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos represents beings/concepts/forces that pre-date humanity... and possibly even our universe.

      Also, Crimson Dragon Slayer, Alpha Blue, and The Outer Presence follow the OSR structure because the OSR structure is a particular kind of traditional RPG. All three of them share the same design philosophy. 4th wave, hoss!

    6. Except he really wasn't. He was just a pulp-horror writer filled with neuroses.

      You have actual real magicians who were in contact with primordial forces, like Crowley; why insist in the fanfiction version?