15 July 2010

Finch on the term 'Old School Renaissance'

Matt Finch sums up what the label 'OSR' ('Old School Renaissance') is really about:
Perhaps a clearer way to approach this is the question of what would happen if the term "OSR" were eliminated from the lexicon. What is that term really used for?

Here is the issue - is there now a shorthand term for what happened after 2000, when Steve and Mark founded Dragonsfoot and then Footprints (free 0e-2e materials), when TLG published Castles & Crusades (was that 2004?), the foundation of the Grognard's Tavern and K&KA (2005?), the almost-simultaneous release of OSRIC, Cairn, Pod Caverns, and a 1e module from Kenzer at GenCon (2006), the publication of Labyrinth Lord (2006 or 2007?), Swords & Wizardry in 2007 or 2008?), Fin's ODD board (2008?)and then the conventions, GaryCon and North Texas (2009). These are all steps that represented FAR more activity than in 1999 (except in 2e). How would one refer to that?

It's not a logical proof, but my point is that the term "OSR" is what's used to describe those watershed-type events and the increasing activity in between. Eliminate the term OSR, and there's no shorthand. It's more precisely described as the Internet Era of Pre-3e Gaming Communications with Concomitant Upsurge in Resource Availability. But OSR is easier to type than IEP3GCwC...

Now, there IS a movement, actually. Many people are part of the IEP3GCwC (OSR) community JUST for gaming resources and good conversation. These have no agenda, and that's absolutely, totally, completely fine. These guys are the core of the internet IEP3GCwC community. They are not a movement.

The movement is the group of people who want to spread the hobby, just as there are some model train guys who just want to talk about model trains and some who want to spread that hobby. Our particular movement on that is NOT the OSR; it is not organized (indeed, the TARGA attempt to organize it in order to provide resources for such folks fell apart). It's purely a set of individuals doing their own thing. Most of the publishers (esp. the retro-clone publishers) chose to publish because they fall into this group. They aren't members of this group because they are publishers. (why retro-clones are a good tool for spreading the hobby is a discussion for some other day). Your folks in Wisconsin, if they aren't on the internet, aren't part of the IEP3GCwC because they aren't on the internet - the IEP3GCwC (or OSR) is a phenomenon based on the internet's increase of communication speed and community and the products it has spawned.

The grow-the-hobby movement has absolutely no coherent ideology beyond grow-the-hobby. One group focuses on spreading the use of original books, despite the hurdles. Another group uses retro-clones because of the zero buy-in cost for new players. Everyone uses his chosen edition for introducing new players at cons or expo games (another reason for the clone-proliferation is to provide zero-cost resources for more members of this group). All these guys differ - sometimes quite violently - about how to accomplish the goal and what the goal is. Even though the grow-the-hobby movement is truly a movement, it is a grass-roots and utterly individualist one. I'm proud to be involved in that, but I certainly don't claim that all gamers have this responsibility. It's almost like a separate hobby from the gaming itself. Merely the joy of seeing a new gamer suddenly "click" to a different style of gaming.

And yes, there are plenty of gamers who have VERY strongly held subset-views about how to play. Edition wars, sneering, or (in a much more productive vein) discussing what the different ways of gaming ARE. But this is a third group, and even if they represent "movements," they are nowhere NEAR monolithic - in fact, they are almost by definition at each others' throats all the time.

The OSR, or IEP3GCwC, isn't the "movement" part of our community.
Originally posted in the comments here.


  1. Excellent article from Matt there; the optimist in me hopes that this proves the movement is a broad one and has room for everyone within it; the pessimist in me worries that this will give the splitters another excuse to start labelling people.

    FWIW, I'm a GTH (grow the hobby) man merely because it's the only way I can see to get game.

  2. Wasn't that 1e module @ GenCon by Goodman Games, not Kenzer?


    GTH it is. :)

  3. I think you can talk about "The OSR" as a cultural phenomenon but it's actually a bit weird talking about whether person X is or isn't part of the OSR while it's taking place. :)

    Otherwise it's identity politics and you'll get some people happy to wave the banner, and other people who don't like the association with banner wavers.

  4. As longshoreman-philosopher Eric Hoffer observed,

    “every great movement begins as a cause,
    eventually becomes a business,
    then degenerates into a racket.”


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I'm a Canadian political philosopher who divides his time between Milwaukee and Toronto.