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Sunday, November 25, 2018

No True Nostalgia

In the OSR vs. DIY post, I mentioned “Nostalgia” as one of the OSR Definitions of the Month. And yes, that has raised its head again recently, in a Faerie Tales & Folklore blog post, “No True OSR”. The author, Morgan, believes that all previous definitions of the OSR are lacking, suggesting that they all commit a “No True Scotsman” fallacy, excluding other games that fit the definition as not being pure.

I’m a little baffled by the analysis, since really Morgan is the one applying the “impurity” principal to exclude various definitions. “Rulings, Not Rules” can’t be the definition of OSR, because there are non-OSR games that use rulings instead of rules. Nor can “Less Plot, More Player Agency”. But were these ever proposed as definitions? Or merely discussed as features? And why isn’t the definition with historical evidence included?

The post basically makes the same error I was discussing in the OSR vs. DIY post: treating various features of OSR games as exclusive must-haves to the OSR. But outside of certain highly-technical contexts, hard boundaries and immutable binaries are not the way people do things in the real world. If you define “dog” as a four-legged carnivorous mammal domesticated by humans thousands of years ago, what do you call a dog with three legs? (Answer: Eileen.) Are cats dogs? What’s a sun dog, then?

Plus, there’s some confusion between “old school games” and “OSR”, which Morgan seems to use interchangeably.

The end result is that Morgan defines the OSR as “anything that provides a sense of nostalgia and prior understanding for the player”. This is meant in a positive way, not the way we typically see the “Nostalgia” argument being made (“You only like OSR games because you’re feeling nostalgic for the old days.”) But if you are consistent and used the same technique on this definition as the blog post uses on the other definitions, you’d have to toss it out as well. Lots of games provide a sense of nostalgia and prior understanding. Many of them aren’t OSR.

For example, I talk about The Fantasy Trip from time to time. I used to run TFT games back in the '80s. But although it has a few old school features, I don’t consider it OSR. It’s not D&D or a D&D derivative, and has significant features it shares with new school games, like a feat/skill system and a very game board-centric approach to combat. I prefer OD&D to TFT, but the reason I still like TFT is, in fact, nostalgia.

Or consider Toon. I first saw it in the mid '80s, played it in the early '90s. It’s nothing like D&D, and has a lot of features closer to story games than to either old school or new school games. It’s definitely not OSR, nor are more recent games that resemble it in some way, such as Risus.

We could continue this with examples of modern games that attempt to recreate some of the feel of old D&D, without using D&D mechanics, such as Donjon or Dungeon World. Or those that have a basic recognizable structure, but are different enough that they exist on the fringe of the OSR, such as DCC RPG.

But I’ll say this about Morgan’s argument: it contains something important. Not the definition of OSR, but one of the principles that motivates it. We go back to D&D because its structure is recognizable to nearly every gamer, since all RPGs ultimately derive from D&D. It’s part of the genetics of roleplaying. The OSR gamer says “Since almost everyone knows how D&D works, why not use it when you want a D&D-like experience?” The OSR gamer doesn’t stop there, of course. Otherwise, the OSR movement wouldn’t have abandoned 3e.

There were things 3e added that the progenitors of the OSR didn’t like, and things that were removed that they missed. Any definition of the OSR that neglects these factors is no true OSR definition.

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