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Friday 10 October 2014

Yes, Please Refuse to Define the OSR!

So back when I posted "If We Don't Define the OSR, Ron Edwards Will", I had a string of people, mostly hostile ultra-orthodox OSR types either distrusting my motives (seriously? when the alternative is Ron Fucking Edwards?!) or just having a level of grandpa-simpson-like refusal to want to have to accept any sort of threatening new idea, who said "oh yeah, well then what do you define it as, smartass?"

So yesterday I went ahead and defined it.

This was followed by a string of people (interestingly, many of which were the very SAME people who just two days back were defying and challenging me to give my definition "if I'm so smart", etc.) on blog entries and on G+ uttering denunciations of HOW DARE I try to define the undefinable OSR?! The OSR, they now suddenly insist, is "undefinable", it is like the Matrix (I shit you not, one fucking idiot made a 'meme' with Morpheus in it, and actually LITERALLY said "no one can be told what the OSR is..."), or Love, or Your First Orgasm, or eating croissants under the Eiffel Tower at sunrise in Paris, it is this thing that can never be truly, correctly or accurately defined and must only be experienced!

I was accused of trying to "glorify" myself by daring to offer up a definition, as though I was daring to see the face of Gygax Almighty himself. And of course some of the more well-known blogging literati of the OSR made their snide reeking-of-superiority fake-frustration posts about how they're "Above it all" and certainly can't be bothered to define the OSR nor should they be expected to, nor can anyone do so.

Now, I'm going to ignore the fact that most of the people already HAVE been defining the OSR.  They've done it in all their various posts over the years. They do it any time they talk about the OSR; they just aren't EXPLICITLY defining it.  They're not saying "The OSR is x", but whenever they bring up the OSR they are in some way or another engaging in unspoken definitions of it.  So what they want is to get to have their cake and eat it to.  Refuse the define the OSR, and you're left in a situation where its the mob of whoever can rouse the troops that gets to decide if something is or isn't OSR, and they can change those definitions to their liking.  They can conveniently use one "unwritten definition" of OSR at one moment, and then if someone calls them out on something, deny that this was ever the definition at all.  They can say "Game X is not OSR", but never have to justify why, and turn around and ignore the unspoken reasons later on if it suits them.

When some of the people above have said things like:

"(the OSR is) anchored on classic DnD and on an interest in similar old school games"


"(the OSR) is grounded in classic D&D"


"(Torchbearer and Dungeon World) are not classic D&D (and thus outside the OSR)"

They are defining the OSR in all but name!  And the very fact that we can look at games like Torchbearer or Dungeon World and say "yeah, those are NOT OSR", means that not only is there such a thing as a definition, but anyone who isn't willing to just say "ANY game at all can be OSR" is making use of a definition!

So while acting above it all, these OSR-literati are making attempts at "defining" OSR just as much as I am, only refusing to be open about it.
The only thing that does in an immediate sense is immunize them from having their definitions questioned, because if you don't stand up to make a definition openly, you can always later disclaim specific parts of what you've been inherently working with as a definition.

In a long-term sense, though? It means that the absence of a hard and fast definition means that someone else can step in and insist that THEY have the true definition, and then use that to make sure it's what they want it to be. That's what Ron Edwards was trying to do, and making up a definition that would allow Storygames to call themselves OSR and that would give all the credit for anything good about the OSR to go to the Forge.

But it's now what I've done instead, creating a much more sane definition to oppose his:

OSR: a design philosophy of creating systems, settings and adventures that fit within the boundaries of old-school mechanics and concepts; that is, either directly utilizing features that were in existence in the period before the advent of 2nd edition AD&D; or features that, in spite of not having historically existed at that time, could have existed in that period without the addition of material or design concepts that are clearly the product of subsequent ideas or later theories.

There. Defined. And by having had the balls to actually define it, unless someone else dares to come along and define a better version, it will end up being, in the long-term, what people accept as the standard. 

You want to keep pretending you're aloof from such concerns and not contribute your own competing definition? That's fine by me; it just means that by refusing to codify what you think the definition ought to be, you end up surrendering the definition to be what I have openly and explicitly defined it as.


Currently Smoking: Ben Wade Canadian + Image Latakia


  1. Again, what makes you think people are just going to accept YOUR definition as standard? What makes you think if it goes unanswered it will be THE definition?

    I fully expect people to go "this is RPGPundit's definition but..."

    You seem to keep harping on 'competing definitions' as if there needs to be a competition at all. Why is it, that if I don't create my own hardline definition I'm surrendering to you? Why do you have such a cult of personality surrounding your own importance in all of this? You have no position of authority at all. You're just some guy blogging, like the rest (or some) of us.

    1. Definitions -- even imperfect ones -- are intrinsically useful as communication tools. If you have a better definition, let's hear it.

      Remember how Pluto used to be considered a planet? Our definition of planethood wasn't very good. We eventually refined it. However, the old definition was good enough for a long time.

      The same is true here. This definition of the OSR isn't perfect, but it's usable. Perhaps in the future we'll come up with a better one and start using that instead.

    2. All of your questions he answered in the lead-up to his definition. Did you not read or was it too complicated for you?

  2. I challenged you go ahead and define the OSR. I never promised I would agree with it or even say it useful.

    What you are experiencing right now in the reaction to your definition is the same thing everybody who ever tried to define the OSR got since 2009-2010. And I warned you about this. That the better way is just to publish product you think ought to be OSR products.

    Now you may view my challenge as a bait & switch. But understand I am a firm proponent of open gaming and open content. That means encouraging people to do there own thing. I encouraged you to do an OSR product and actively supported you when you did Arrows of Indra. I hoped, but wasn't certain, that you would make a good OSR product. As it turned out you made a great OSR product.

    I challenged you to come up with a definition and you did. It is a definition and that it not surprising people are reacting to it the way they are. But there was a chance something different could have resulted.

    As for me and my aloofness, understand I don't care what people do with classic D&D. I don't care about what anybody else does with the OSR label. I am satisfied with the fact that there are versions of classic D&D that are open content. professionally. That I am free to with what I want them. I find the OSR label useful to describe what I do both personally and professionally. That there are people who find my material useful.

    And I been more than upfront about all this. Hell I been publicly advocating open source when I was doing addons for Orbiter Space Simulator.

  3. My interest in getting people to talk about definitions is specifically the opposite of establishing a cult of authority. If you haven't noticed, I'm trying to goad people into presenting comparative ideas. It's entirely possible that someone else will present a definition that is either better or at least better-worded than my own; but we won't know that if people with an interest in keeping things vague manage to continue to promote the notion that we shouldn't even try.

    1. Your intentions have been clearly stated a few times...methinks some choose to gloss over that as it doesn't fit with the corner they want you painted into. Or they just have poor reading comprehension skills.

    2. Yeah, that does tend to happen. People want to buy into the narrative others are pushing of "the Pundit just wants to be the Pope-King of the OSR", when my real deal all along has always been "against the tyranny of popes and kings!". I've only ever been about stopping the assholes who think they should be in charge, but that's not a truth that much suits those people who are nervous and uncomfortable about what I'm saying.

      Again, if I wanted to be "Pope of the OSR", I'd be telling all the OSR people what they already wanted to hear (as others have done before), rather than telling them things most of them DON'T want to hear.

  4. @ Pundit:

    Hmm. I missed this whole shit-storm. Just went back and read the Edwards interview and my interpretation of the little he says about the OSR is very different from yours. I'd hardly say he's attempting to "define it," nor would I say he's attempting to take credit for it (or the best parts of it).

    For what it's worth, I don't think your definition is really at odds with his assertion that the OSR label is a "marketing term." Certainly OSR product IS marketed under the design philosophy you define.

    1. If by 'marketing term' you mean "its used by some people to market product", then sure; OSR can be used for marketing, so can "the Forge", or "storygames", or "FATE", or "D&D", for that matter.
      But Edwards was suggesting that the OSR is a fraudulent concept, that has no actual definition outside of being a marketing term, and that's where he's wrong.

  5. I don't want to define anything, but my concept of the OSR includes things like "rulings instead of rules" and "tons of player agency" and "DIY-ness".

    1. Agreed. That all falls under "design concepts".

  6. It's weird how against this some people are. It's totally fine if you aren't interested in the subject or think there are some fundamental difficulties with the exercise (I think the OSR might be a little too broad to be easily defined, and it's more of an umbrella term for several smaller things that can), but some of the comments I've seen have bordered on outright anti-intellectualism. Maybe it's an overreaction to all the armchair theorizing people have endured

    People need to quit shitting on others. If it doesn't matter to you, fine, ignore it. If you're worried about the results of a stronger definition, the appropriate response would be to make sure it's a good and effective one. Don't let others arrive at a poor one prematurely

  7. Damned if you do, damned if you don't.

    I actually liked your definition of the OSR, pundit. Mine, as I'm sure you've already read, is a little more "fringe"... but I like being out there on the edge.

    1. I did read yours, and stated somewhere on G+ that I admired the fact that you actually took up the charge and offered a definition rather than being one of the mass of people who talked about how "the OSR is like a Rainbow, you just can't catch it in your hand!" or whatever other bullshit.

      Also, I think your theory is not as such incompatible with my own.