- It doesn’t mean anything,
- It’s just a brand,
- It’s nostalgia for any old ruleset,
- It’s one or more specific rules.
The OSR is DIY gaming, or should be called “DIY gaming” instead of “OSR”"I saw this one on Discord first, perhaps a few other places. My immediate reaction was “Those two movements intersect, but they aren’t synonymous.” But I should explain my reasoning.
First, it’s no secret where the term “OSR” came from and what it was first used for. It stands for “Old School Renaissance” and first appeared after a couple of significant events:
- The 2001 publication of Hackmaster 4th Edition, essentially a reprint of AD&D with house rules.
- The 2004 publication of Castles & Crusades.
- An ongoing interest in amateur old school D&D modules and resources.
From reading the posts on the various rpg boards over the last couple of years it does seem there is a shift in thinking amongst the gaming community concerning what they want from future rpgs. The illusion has been dispelled that the d20 ultra detailed number crunching method would lead to a better gaming experience. A pining for more narrative simpler play and a looking back to the old days seems to be the new way forward […] An old school renaissance could be on the horizon."(Emphasis added.)
This appears to be the earliest use of the phrase “old school renaissance”, and it’s pretty clear what was meant, since the post’s author spelled it out: a return to “old school” games, specifically TSR-era D&D, to avoid ultra-detailed number crunching and refocus on simpler, more narrative approach to play.
Now, since the coinage of the term, there’s been a few other rephrasings of the term (“Old School Revival” is popular,) as well as more thought on what we prefer about old school D&D and what we dislike about d20 System D&D. But the fundamental core idea of rejecting d20 System D&D and either returning to older D&D or finding/making something similar to it hasn’t changed. There’s also been a lot of DIY material.
But some people use reprinted modules and systems, not DIY material. And others “do it themselves”, but with 3e, or FATE, or Savage Worlds, or PbtA. In fact, there was the whole Forge-spawned indie RPG movement that did a lot of DIY projects and publishing, but rejected everything D&D, old school, new school, and everything in between.
OSR vs. DIY is not a pair of mutually-exclusive definitions, but a spectrum of gaming. You can play with an old school group and never run a game or make up your own material. You can buy a reprint of a TSR-era D&D game (B/X is very popular right now) and either reprints of old modules or indie-published new modules and run a campaign with those, with no changes or just a handful of house rules. You can go completely DIY, download a cheat sheet and improvise off that, using completely made-up classes in dungeons you or a GM designed.
Or, for that matter, your DIY modifications to an old school game might be a bunch of new school rules, or you might run 5e with some old school modifications. Old school/new school is not a hard binary distinction and never was. Some of the earliest retroclones, for example Basic Fantasy RPG, include new school features like ascending AC, and OSR bloggers have commented about new school elements that were present in TSR D&D, such as skill lists in the form of non-weapon proficiencies.
It might be true that most retroclones are only 75% to 90% old school rules, and 75% to 90% of all OSR gamers are mostly either making or buying DIY products. But that in no way means that the term “OSR” is synonymous with “DIY”.
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