Thursday, March 12, 2015

Bringing '88 Back

I used to look down on the "OSR" with a bit of derision. For those of you who don't know, the OSR or "Old School Revival (or Renaissance)" is a movement within the tabletop RPG community who stick very closely to the abandoned roleplaying games from the birth of the hobby in the 70's and 80's. This mostly equates to the earliest editions of Dungeons & Dragons, back when D&D was sold in colored boxes and an "Advanced" D&D was sold in hardcovers, but there's a lot of love for the oldest versions of Traveller, the old West End Games D6 stuff, and TSR's old Marvel RPG, as well. Though GURPS and Champions were big at the time, too, they tend to fall out of the scope of the OSR since they're still around and their current editions haven't spun too far away from their original versions (the same can be said for Call of Cthulhu). 

I used to look down at this whole movement because I believed that it consisted of stubborn, now-old men who didn't want to have to buy new books or learn new systems. I believed that most of these OSR gamers were just trying to hide their stinginess, stubborness, and political incorrectness behind a thin veneer of "classic gameplay."

Then, I ran across a man named Kevin Crawford, and things changed.

Kevin Crawford, the single man behind game publisher Sine Nomine Games, is a dedicated OSR enthusiast. He has several products under his belt, but is perhaps best known for three major game lines: the sci-fi, Traveller-esque Stars Without Number, it's Gamma World-ey spinoff Other Dust, and the fantasy setting Red Tide, designed to be used with another OSR system, Labyrinth Lord. Recently, Mr. Crawford has released another standalone, OSR-styled game, Silent Legions. It is this last game that has most-recently blown my mind and made me rethink what the OSR really is.

I'm not going to get too deeply into Silent Legions. For that, you can look at my Geek Native review. But what I will say is this: reading this book has been a blast. And it has indeed stirred in me quite a bit of nostalgia for an older, "simpler" time of gaming. The pre-d20 days where systems didn't try to make sense; they just worked, and you just dealt with it. Systems that intentionally didn't try and do everything and expected you and your players to house-rule as necessary. The pre-internet days where the hobby itself began and ended at your own table, face-to-face with your friends. It's hard to put into words, but there is definitely this feeling, this emotional connection, to these older game systems that isn't there for the newer games. Is that purely nostalgia, or is there some kind of sensibility to those old games that isn't in the newer stuff? I don't know.

If there is some kind of forgotten design philosophy that gives those games their potency, Kevin Crawford certainly knows the recipe and has applied it with great success to everything he does. I have some theories on his style (and, by extension, the OSR) that I'll get into later as I read more material, but for now, I'll say that I was wrong about the OSR. Though I'm certain there are at least a few grognards in the group that fit my negative stereotype, deep inside that old-school veneer is a vein of pure gaming genius that gets tapped in Crawford's productions. I'll definitely write more on this later.
"I get another horse in the morning."

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