OSR as a State of Mind

The post below is written by Shortymonster, a guest blogger for The Iron Tavern.

Every RPG could be an OSR game, it’s all a state of mind.

I want to start by saying that I do not consider myself to be a part of the Old School Renaissance (OSR)  movement; when I came into gaming it was with such systems as Vampire: the Masquerade, Cyberpunk 2020, and a mate’s home-brew system heavily inspired by Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time series. All these were quite crunchy systems, and as a new gamer, I liked that. It was comforting to know that if I wanted to try something out that there was a rule to cover it, or at least a guideline to give the GM a position to adjudicate from. As time moved on and I grew as a player, there was always a room in my heart for games like this. I’m still using CP2020 as a system for my next campaign, and although the World of darkness has fallen out of my favour, I still like Gothic horror games with a bit of crunch, such as Unhallowed Metropolis.

What has changed however is that I’m spending more and more of my time as a GM to the point that I spend more time running games than playing in them. Quite often these days I feel the need to ignore rules in favour of maintaining the flow of the story. Some may think this might not be in the spirit of fair play to my players, but I promise one thing, if I drop a rule for them, that same rule drop applies to all the NPCs too, and vice versa. Often I’m not dropping a rule because it doesn’t work, or because leaving it in gets in the way of me telling the story I want to tell, but because it gets in the way of the free flow of play. This is something that should be just as much of a concern to me as it is to my players, but they should never have to deal with, in fact it should happen so seamlessly that they shouldn’t even notice it.

This to me is the essence of the OSR; finding a set of rules that allows – nay, encourages – the GM to make on the spot decisions about character and NPC actions without having to check through countless chapters and tables to get the answer from the rules. This doesn’t mean the rules should be ignored unilaterally, just that they can be put aside when they become an inconvenience. Quite often, they wouldn’t exist in the first place to slow things down, as the game designer could trust the GM to make the right calling. So, why don’t fans of OSR just run any game they choose like that?

If I didn’t like the combat resolution system in CP2020 I would ditch the needlessly complicated rules and come up with something that allowed faster resolution of a fight but didn’t get in the way of my players performing the actions they think they should be able to. And you know what, I don’t like it, so I did change it. My way is way quicker, easier to explain, and opens up combat for the players to take a bit more of the initiative with what they would like their characters to do. This seems to be in line with a lock of hacks I’ve read about, people taking a setting they like, and retro-cloning the rules the fir an easier or more comfortable play style.

To be fair, a lot of the adventures I run don’t have much in common with what most people think of when you mention OSR. As an example, I don’t do dungeon crawls. I find them a bit boring and they only exist for me as a way of having a laugh at the expense of the preconceptions of the genre. I will be running Something Went Wrong for instance, but not because I like dungeon crawls; because I love the multi GM aspect and the fact that it makes fun of the genre in a pleasingly light-hearted way. For the very same reason, I’m a big fan of the Munchkin card game.

So, to fans of OSR games, and I know there’s a load of you out there, I would like to say that I love what you do, and the effort you go to just to keep your ideal play style and rule sets going – when I see free RPGs out there in an OSR style, I grab them up quick and love reading them and thinking about what I could do with them – I think I’ll just keep playing whatever game I choose, and keep the OSR feel going by how I run the game, and how my group plays it. And a big thank you to folks of a like mind out there, who keep on hacking things to fit the way want to play; you’re saving me a ton of work.


Shortymonster is new to this blogging lark, but if you have enjoyed what you’ve just read, head on over to his own site and take a look at his thoughts on a variety of subjects across the spectrum of role playing games.