I read this post a couple of days ago and it has really, really been sticking with me. I found it fascinating for some reason. I think it’s because I’m kind of an OSR barnacle. I love the old school games and I love reading what these folk are doing — but I’m not really “old-schoolin’ it” myself anymore. ChicagoWiz is asking a really interesting question, but I wonder if the question he’s asking isn’t even bigger than it appears?
What do I mean by that? Well, I highly encourage you to read his post first because the rest of this will make less sense. I’ll still be here when you’re done…
So, what am I thinking? Well, it’s still sort of a rumination at this point, but as I’ve recently gotten into Pathfinder — and his evoking PF as a possible influence on the OSR movement really got me pointed in an interesting direction.
Another post I was reading was discussing the “splatbook” explosion with games like 3.5 and 4E. I admit, I buy every dang one of those when I’m playing a game, but I’m a junkie for rpgs and I like new character stuff. That said, I realized that one of the things I really like about PF right now is that the game is actually not “brand new” anymore and so far Paizo has been very conservative about publishing splatbooks. I mean, we have the Advanced Players’ Guide and Ultimate Magic — in terms of big, first-party supplements. I’m leaving out all the third party stuff here because it is of variable quality and isn’t “officially” affiliated with the game.
But I got to thinking about it some more and I realized — the splatbooks for PF already exist… they’re the 8 years worth of 3e/3.5 books already in existence. I mean, I’ve already converted the Hadozee and the Spellscales over PF from 3.5 (it took about 15 seconds) so what’s the big deal, right? PF builds on an existing property, giving it a freedom that other games don’t always have because they are “new.” This is not to say that I don’t find Pathfinder awesome — I do. And I appreciate the innovations they’ve implemented to 3.5, but a wealth of 98% compatible stuff already exists, so it’s much easier, right?
That said, I found it additionally fascinating to apply this thinking to the OSR idea. Here’s what I mean — CW asks the questions — “are we done” and “what’s next” and those are both good questions. I think the evolution of the D&D clones is interesting for this reason though — back when D&D first came out, when Old School was just School — a lot of D&D wannabe’s appeared at that time. I played a few (some I like better than D&D) like Arcanum from Bard Games and Powers and Perils (which made me cry) just to name two. But when these came out they were doing two things differently from today — One, they were directly attempting to compete against D&D in the gaming market (or at least carve out their own share). Two, they were the first “and this is how I’d do it” versions of “clones” when the RPG was still a young concept.
As RPGs “grew up” they also grew “out” and expanded to encompass new genres (horror, superhero, spy, sci-fi, etc) and they began to change in focus and form. We saw the appearance of point-buy, generic systems, the growth of the idea of a “core mechanic”, a focus on personal roleplaying and the appearance of the World of Darkness (an event that I opine is as important to the hobby as anything that has happened), and eventually the growth of the current era of really Indie-games and story games.
But all of this growth and change and experimentation was building upon those first generation of games. Well, those have come and gone (and come back again). And now the OSR is in a very interesting place. With a new generation of clones (of D&Ds, as it were) now in existence, what does come next? Because you don’t have to re-invent the wheel, the wheel already exists, so now it’s what kind of chassis can you put that wheel on, you know? Design and Development aren’t in a vacuum anymore — so much has already been created. I think about a game like Old School Hack that looks so much like a basic game and yet is also so informed by a lot of the ‘indie kid’ sensibilities that currently exist (and that’s not a dig, OSH is awesome). So if the OSR folk are interested in growing what they’ve been doing, what comes next? I want to see it.
And the playing field is different. It’s not about competing for market-share so much as sharing a new market. It’s not about branching out into a wild frontier and doing “space” or “spy” (though games like Stars Without Numbers are already doing that — and I think I heard someone is working on a clone of Top Secret… but I’m not reliable on that one). It’s about seeing gaming evolution happen all over again — without the same forces at work that shaped the market and the industry the first time.
I have a huge file of free and inexpensive games on my laptop and I add new ones everyday — I’m hoping to add to that pool myself soon — and these aren’t just OSR games, but all kinds of games. So now, with new technologies, new ways to share our work, and an interested audience, that’s the question I want an answer to, Where do we go next?
Thanks for reading, and thanks to everyone making and sharing great games.