Saturday, October 11, 2014

My Gamer Friends Went To The Bahamas, And All I Got Was This Lousy RPG Theory Post

Let me see, I feel like I need to blog more, if only to remind people that this is here. So, what is the controversy du jour that I might have opinions about so I can put something together? I see people are still going on about defining the OSR in the wake of Ron Edwards pretending that any influence he had over the origin of the OSR was more than merely by contrast (and honestly, I think even that was indirect, as it seems to me that the proximate cause of the rise of the OSR* was D&D 4E and its failure to support what many people were looking for from D&D; now, 4E may possibly, I am told, have come about due to WotC's design team being influenced by the theories of the Forge and Ron Edwards, but one should hardly claim influence as the result of a resounding failure**). sigh I guess it's more RPG theory, then.

I'm not going to link the discussion because it hardly matters, and it's too widely spread around to be able to do so anyway. Still, my thoughts on "defining" the "OSR" whatever-it-is (movement? cult? marketing category?), not that anyone asked, but it's my blog and I get to yammer about such things here:

Who cares? If someone "defines" OSR in such a way that it no longer resembles what people actually want it to be, they will move away from the term and continue to do the thing that they actually want. Ron Edwards can pretend that he is suddenly "OSR", or that the Forge invented the OSR, or whatever, and that "OSR" means whatever bizarrely counterintuitive thing he wants it to mean, but that won't change the thing that people are actually looking for. They might play a Ron Edwards game, realize that it's not what they want, and move back toward the thing that they are after.

When I was casting about, starting to think that maybe roleplaying wasn't what I was looking for after all because everyone had defined it as "storytelling" and therefore not something that interests me (I write - I neither need nor want artificial mechanics getting in the way of that), I ran across some people who called themselves or were described by others as "OSR". They gave me hope that there were other theories of what constitutes "roleplaying" out there, and that I didn't need to cede the ground to the Forge or White Wolf or Issaries or anyone else. I have no idea if I am even "OSR" myself, and I don't much care. All I take from that thing is that no one has the right to define roleplaying for everyone else.

Whatever. I like games that share certain characteristics, among which are:

  • An open architecture, unconstrained by "non-diegetic" concerns.
  • "Tactical infinity", which is the concept that it is possible for any element of the game setting to become important due to the aforementioned open architecture. For instance, if a player can figure out a way to make the texture of the wall or the color of his vehicle into a meaningful characteristic of the action, then the Referee must have the flexibility to be able to incorporate that into the action at the table. One can also describe it as the concept that all fluff is (at least potentially) crunch.
  • Player control over a single, defined piece (this is flexible, however, as in some games a single player might control two or more specific, defined pieces; the point is that each piece is unitary rather than a conglomeration of several characters within the world, and that no one else is allowed control over a player's piece or pieces for "non-diegetic" reasons).
  • A relative lack of hindrances to player choices. The few that exist should be limited to physical (or metaphysical, perhaps) limits of the setting, and never only for the convenience of a story arc.

And so on. If a game fits those characteristics, then it supports my goal in playing a roleplaying game instead of a wargame or card game, which can be described succinctly as "immersion". If it doesn't, then it generally won't support my interests. I find those characteristics most strongly represented in games that are called "Old School", which is why I prefer them. So long as the games published under the general rubric of "OSR" continue to display those characteristics, I will tend to support them over games that emphasize "story" or whatever other agenda. If they stop, then I won't.

And that's why I don't give a crap about anyone defining "OSR" in a hard and fast way, though I like laughing at them as they flail around in the attempt (especially when, like Ron Edwards, they have long been vocal critics of the games that fall generally into the "OSR" category by common understanding; seriously, if you think that D&D isn't a roleplaying game or at best isn't a good example of the type, then you are so far outside the amorphous area of the OSR that it is laughable to even try to claim it). Because the definition doesn't matter. People aren't playing OSR-type games because they like the term itself, they are playing them because those games support the play styles they prefer.

*Note: not of the OSR itself, which seems to have originated due to some people not feeling served well by WotC's versions of D&D generally, resulting in such proto-OSR attempts as Castles & Crusades. That may have changed now that WotC seems to have looked to OSR advisors in the design stages of D&D 5E, but we shall see. Certainly, the initial publication of an "adventure path" style adventure rather than a "sandbox" seems disheartening. What the 5E DMG looks like will be of particular interest, I think.

**Let me be clear here: the failure was because 4E does not support the type of game that many people wanted to play, even if it was perhaps entirely successful at its design goals. The point is that it is clear that very few people support those design goals, as the rise of Pathfinder clearly shows. One can argue that the continued dominance of Pathfinder indicates that the OSR's design agenda is also a failure, but no one in the OSR is trying to lay claim to Pathfinder. Also, we have yet to see how things will shake out with D&D 5E.

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