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.


Trey said...

I guess I'm a bit in the middle. Mostly, I'm ahistorical (I certainly am to the degree that I don't think games go out of date), but certain aspects of games and production values of products and the like I do tend to consider in historical context.

Xyanthon said...

Good post. I love the older stuff, but I have to admit, I never played the game as written. I think some of the older stuff is awesome. Some of the newer stuff incorporates some great ideas that really builds on the older stuff. I don't think we should be so hamstrung by the awe of what came before though to realize there is still much great stuff written in the spirit of the old school that is yet to come.

James Maliszewski said...

Personally, I think there's at least two different OSR communities.

Unknown said...

No doubt about that. As many as you choose to identify, almost.

Anonymous said...

Great post and one that brings to mind the words stagnant and alive. As always, of course, balance between two extremes is ideal.

jgbrowning said...

@Trey: I tend to be more ahistorical in written content and more historical in production values.

@John: I also don't really play the rules as written. I think it would be the odd man in the room who does. :)

@James & Matthew: Yeah, I was more just trying to put down what I consider a key aesthetic difference within the OSR, not limit the number or separate to just two.

x said...

I think we are missing the fact that the diversity is our strength and not a weakness.

I don't want to get all Star Trekian on anybody here but the IDIC is the best motto I can think of to describe the vibrant movement that exists at this point. For those who don't recall their Vulcan studies:

Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations

Wanna play High Fantasy? Done. Science Fantasy? Got it.
Sword and Sorcery 'Conan' style? Bam!

That to me is what is the best part of this. And with the internet we can have others enjoy our worlds where ever they live.

I'm waiting for a shot of some African children sitting with one of those little One Laptop Per Child devices with a dice roller on the screen and they are playing something they got from the internet...and then they start writing and sharing their own.

Now THAT is awesome :)

Here's to a United OSR-FTW!

jgbrowning said...

@AD&D Grognard: I completely agree. We've a lot more in common than we have differences.

x said...

Yes, we have something the industry does not have...we have the passion...not the pa$$ion :)

And hey, I am a capitalist AND soon to be publisher. I like moneyz too, but I like smiles even better.

I'm jealous of Paizo...not real big on the product but damn their fans love'em. I want me some of that love :)

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