Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Two OSR Communities?

There’s been two recent conversations concerning the theory of two different parallel and overlapping OSR communities. The posts I’m referring to are those made at There’s Dungeons Down Under and at Mythmere’s Blog. Generally, I’m in agreement with both of their ideas of two communities as being one of the sources of conflicting opinions in the OSR, but like everyone else I have some of my own opinions about this.

In addition to what those two blogs have postulated, I think there’s also a “temporal preference” divide that’s driving much of the conflicting opinions. There are those who believe that the past is comparable to the present and should be viewed as such and those who believe that the past is effectively not comparable.

I think this difference isn’t unique to the OSR, not by a long shot. The easiest similar conflicting opinions can be found in sports. There are those who believe that the best of the old players are the best players ever while there are those who believe that the best of the new players are the best ever.

I think a core question is: “Do you judge things from past as if they weren’t part of the past (ahistorically) or do you include historicity in your judgment of quality?” The follow up question to that one is “No, really, seriously, think about it. When you make your opinions are you thinking about quality in terms of historical relativity or are you comparing things as if they were concurrently produced?” Honestly answered, I think everyone does a bit of both - it's just the ratio that's different.

The way you answer that question determines in what boat you tend to fall in. I’m a big believer in ahistorical judgment concerning rpg materials. In fact, I think that’s one of the core ideas behind the OSR - that a game’s enjoyably is independent of its historical context. Just because something is old, doesn’t make it bad. The opposite of that is also true however, just because something is old doesn't make it good. I think people who choose to self-identify as part of the OSR tend to lean heavily on an ahistorical preference towards the judgment of quality. I also think that those who play old-school games but choose to not self-identify as part of the OSR lean more towards a historical judgment of quality. To them, the old stuff really is better than the new stuff.

I view old products the same way as I view new products - some of the old stuff is a masterpiece, some of it is just a piece, if you know what I mean. I think that when Raggi’s post about the OSR being better than TSR made its big kerfluffle, it was mainly because of this divide over the importance of historicity in the judgment of quality.

Personally, I think the OSR is standing on the shoulders of giants. Whether or not you think that means the OSR is taller than the giants depends upon how you view historicity.

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