A while back I made some observations about the “Old School Renaissance” (OSR)’s impact on D&D 5E, and I have been continuing to examine the topic. On the whole, I’ve come to the conclusion that I like the OSR, but it’s full of nitwits.
A little context may be in order here: I got into D&D early. Like, real early. 1979 early. That was the year (if my memory serves correctly) I was given a secondhand D&D Basic Set (2nd Printing), edited by J. Holmes (sometimes known as “the blue box”), for Christmas. And like other famous blue boxes, it was much bigger on the inside than it was on the outside. I didn’t actually ever get to play that, but I did read and absorb it for years.
I’m not being a hipster when I say you’ve probably never heard of the first game I actually ran– it’s just a literal fact. It was an obscure “buy ten miniatures and paint, plus here’s a dungeon game included” kit from Heritage USA called Dungeon Dwellers: Crypt of the Sorcerer. I then moved on to 1E AD&D and played that for many years, mostly skipping 2E all together.
So, y’know, I get what the old school is about. I was there, man. 😉 And I also get (and mostly agree with) the principles that the current OSR is built on: player choice, setting immersion, emphasis on impartial GMs and clever, emergent play over mindless grindy combats and predestined storylines, etc. So naturally, I’m drawn to look at OSR gaming resources and discussion.
But wow, some of the dumb shit OSR bloggers say. XD Like any movement that’s half (or more) defined by what they dislike rather than what they like, they get into purity wars about who’s More OSR Than Thou, divide the world into badwrongfun “new school” and goodrightfun “old school,” and go through all sorts of weird gyrations to negate any actual, valid criticism of older games (or newer games that cleave to OSR aesthetics).
When you’ve got Arnesians claiming “more cred” than Gygaxians, people arguing that a moody cover of a hapless adventurer being carried off by a tentacle is too “new school” because it was created in Photoshop by some person other than Erol Otus, or (here’s a weird one that really exists) bloggers asserting that contemporary RPGs are all about “exploring your character’s sexual preferences,” it quickly becomes clear that what you’ve really got going on is a cult, just as myopic and talking-to-itself as any other.
So, honestly, I’m glad 5E was influenced by the OSR, because 4E really was awful in so many ways, but I’m also glad that the OSR is not the only influence on it. And while I’m sympathetic to what actual philosophical underpinnings the OSR has, I am not hitching my star to that wagon!