Wednesday, June 25, 2014

OSR is like a river

I see the OSR as a river. Looking up river you'll see tens if not hundreds of smaller rivers contributing to the main stream. You can paddle upriver and take any one of these tributaries. When you get tired or want to enjoy something new you just let the flow take you downriver until you find a new path to paddle upriver.

Some people believe there's only one true river worth rowing up and down in. Others have chosen a particular river and rowed upstream so far they've seen it reduced to simple stream so small their canoe can go up any more. There are even those that believe there is only one true canoe worth using to row up and down the river.

All this is of course bullshit. To focus on the river is to lose focus of what is important. The view, the sense of adventure and exploration, and, above all, those friends who accompany you on the journey.

To explore new horizons, new games and take on new adventures one must be willing to flow back to the main river and then choose another branch and row upriver through it. I'll add that it was very refreshing for me to read Michael F. Korns' "Modern War in Miniature". A very early (1966) WWII war "RPG". It literally made me throw away a year's work on the Weapons Free game in favor of Saints & Sinners. I guess that over time I had grown to accustomed to certain ideas and needs in regards to mechanics, and although the game's dice and mechanics were very different from what I had played with in other games, it was in essence still much of the same stuff I had vowed to step away from. Slowly, but surely, the game had gotten over complicated with things I liked but were not the true essence of what I was looking for. I was still too influenced by games I had played before. I was rowing upriver so to speak. I needed something new, broader and refreshing.

At around 90 pages Weapons Free was by no means "big", but when I read "Modern War in Miniature" and saw what Korns managed in just 11 pages with huge font size and a small page, I was instantly driven to create something new, simpler, a synthesis of my previous stuff. I realized then than I was being pulled downriver and would soon be finding a new river branch to row up. I realized that up to then I had been dragging the canoe overland, walking, trying to find a new branch to set it in and row, once again, further upriver.

This was not only harder, it was also much more limiting. Quite obviously walking overland carrying the canoe is a lot harder than having the canoe carry me. More important than this is the fact that going overland will only take me to the closest tributary rivers which surely flow to the same main tributary I came from in the first place. That's why after a year's work it still felt pretty much the same as the previous stuff I'd played. Overall a lot of effort for very little change.

With the upcoming release of D&D Next the talk about OSR, D&D and OSR fundamentalism has risen in tone and level. There's always been talk about D&D Next appealing to all their users. I thought and still think that is a bad idea. In the river analogy I see this as looking for a point upriver that all branches meet, and we all know that's impossible. Rivers branch out as one goes upriver. This is also a way to visualize what has happened with D&D over the past decades. Over the course of the last four decades D&D has rowed further and further up a chosen river branch. As the watercourse began to run dry they'd haul their canoe overland and find another nearby branch and milk it for all it was worth. This lead to the fragmentation we see today.

With the release of D&D Basic I see WotC rowing downriver, opening the options for players to choose from the multitude of branches available downstream. A set of wide and affluent branches. It takes us back to the older days of D&D when anything was possible. What we saw over time with 2nd, 3rd and 4th editions was a company choosing a particular tributary and rowing upriver. OSR was a response to this. A move back to the main river. A rejection of WotC's choice.

Unfortunately many OSR supporters have become as polarized if not more so than WotC was back in the day. They believe the river branch they have chosen is the one true OSR tributary. As if all water in it flowed from the fountain of eternal D&D youth or something like that. As much as I value and respect their rules, settings and style of play, I can't fathom their intolerance. There are even those who come to the point of dictating what is a proper canoe and what isn't, who can row in it and who can't. Isn't going against this type of attitude what got OSR going in the first place?

To me OSR isn't about a particular set of rules or even a particular type of die. It's about a spirit of play, a sense of adventure, a drive to explore those yet uncharted rivers. I believe WotC has made a good move with the next D&D version, although only time will tell.

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