There once was a very small, insignificant little man who looked upon a great edifice of imaginative design and construction, unlike anything ever built before. This little man of no training or skill of his own felt that the magnificent construction was not finished. He took it upon himself to sneak up the side of the marvel of design and add a flagpole to the very top. As he perched upon the very pinnacle of another’s innovative achievement, looking out upon vistas never even contemplated before, he exulted to himself that his was the great achievement, for was the flagpole not the highest structure in the land? Old Delusio fable.
If there is one thing that the Internet has taught us, it is that any delusional narcissist can find an audience for his rantings. You need no credentials to proclaim yourself an expert, you need no expertise; apparently, all you need is too much time on your hands, an agenda and a very wide streak of “I love me.”
Another thing that the Web has taught us is the viral speed at which labels and classifications can spread; like viruses, the mutations along the way can be extreme.
As an example, let me use the example of the phrase “Old School Revival.” (I have also seen references to “Old School Renaissance,” which is apparently much the same concept or “movement.”) What exactly does this mean? The more often I see the term, the more confused I get with the contexts in which it is used.
OSR (whichever phrase you prefer), is, on its surface, an oxymoron. For something to be “reborn” or revived, it must first be dead. The original spirit of D&D never died; it just was buried under all the crap that came out with editions after the second. A lot of us never bought into what has now become a video game with dice and paper. However, I digress…
The very vociferousness of the self-appointed denouncers goes against the very fabric of the game as we played it in the early and mid-seventies. These Inquisitors separate and divide; the real original style was: whatever works and produces fun is OK. It was about the fun. The DM outlines the plot components and the players fill in the details.
As far as I can tell, the individuals most closely involved in this movement to “be pure again” seem to number no more than several dozen. Oddly enough, a couple of the more opinionated, and to my eye more ignorant, seem to claim individual credit for the “movement,” as though they created and/or defined it.
Two particularly obnoxious individuals have set themselves up as some sort of Star Chamber in which they pass judgments that others are actually supposed to care about and heed. Aside from vociferous vituperation, what have they to offer?
Recently, a friend directed my attention to a blog from some “OSR evangelical type” that made some of the most ill-informed, unfounded and absolutely ludicrous statements that showed his total lack of understanding. One must assume that he simply ignored anything that did not fit with his sickeningly self-congratulatory belief that the OSR is now superior to the original TSR.
What does that even mean? As a charter member of the “original school,” I can certainly assert that this dogmatic, divisive “movement” has little or no idea of what it was like gaming back then. Their ignorance cannot be excused; enough of us from the founding years have certainly been very forthcoming on various websites over the past several years. (My thread on Dragonsfoot is 160+ pages and I have answered every question put to me in that venue.)
In recent years, I have been going to cons and running adventures of my creation. Virtually every group that had never played with me before were astounded that I could run a four hour adventure without ever cracking open a book. Not only that, I forbade books at the table. With one possible exception, every group I have exposed to my style of play, which has not changed rules for 30 years, had a hell of a lot of fun. At least, that is what they told me.
Fun is what it is all about. Someone once asked me what the measure of a good DM was. My response was that when your players show up every week to play, you are doing just fine.
What we produced was the product of our minds and hands, something that had never been done before, a totally new gaming experience. What we did fed our children, paid our utilities and made the mortgage payments every month. We did it by creating something brand new. We built a market in five short years that virtually dwarfed the hobby of five years previous. In addition, we did not do it with a government subsidy or grant.
Saying that current OSR material is superior to TSR material from 1977 (just a year I was there, nothing special about it) is like saying that today’s Mercedes-Benz is superior to the farm-cart-looking wagon that Herr Daimler motorized in the late 19th century. Well, duhhh. Look at all we’ve learned since then; it had better be better. Lots of people have the ability to improve; very few can create. That is why there is a distinction between a game designer and a game developer.
Unbelievably moronic statements have been made about Dragon Magazine to the effect that it was not like Knockspell and Fight On! (both of which I have written pieces for and one of which dedicated an issue to me and Dragon—for the purposes of full disclosure) magazines of today. Well, no shit, Sherlock. The Two you tout are fan magazines; Dragon was a gaming magazine. We were growing an industry and hobby that those responsible for such utter tripe now take for granted. Neither Gary nor I had the slightest interest in a house organ, one-trick-pony thing. We squared that between us before he hired me. Before D&D truly took off, we had already planned a gaming magazine. (Big dark secret: many of our early readers were not D&Ders; some became…)
Perhaps the most singularly asinine comment that I have had brought to my attention lately came from an obscure self-styled publisher from a small European country. He opined that TSR did not act like a book publisher. Once again: well, no shit Sherlock. We were not a book publisher, we were game publishers desperately trying to protect our IP so that we could continue feeding our families, paying the bills and having light to work by. (We put in some pretty prodigious hours in those early years.)
If not for the OGL, none of these blatherers and blowhards would have anything to crow about. (Man, what a mistake that was, eh?) (WotC and the Hasborg must have recurring nightmares about OGL, d20 and all of that debacle…good, the greedy soul-less bastards…)
Somewhere along the way, OSR seems to have lost its way. If it was a movement, what has it brought to the hobby? More hobbyists? Nope; in fact, it seems to be driving some to other rules systems. Better products? Nope, although there have been a few good ones like The Dungeon Alphabet that compare favorably. Innovation? Nope, again. Has anyone ever published something like Empire of the Petal Throne? Seems to me that the OSR is long on Nopes and decidedly devoid of any Yups.
Let this serve as notice: What I am writing and will soon be publishing is no way connected to, associated with or in any way part of anything that calls itself OSR. My stuff is me and my take on what can provide some fun role-playing.
There once was short man that convinced a giant to let him stand upon his shoulders so that he might better see a parade. So intoxicated did the short man become with the view and perspectives revealed up on the giant’s shoulders that he grew full of himself, forgetting that without those shoulders, he would have seen nothing at all. Another old Delusio fable
I really did not want to name names; I was citing a couple of recent items as a metaphor for, or example of, what I see as a bizarre schism in our hobby. Mr. Raggi (please note use of honorific, Mr. Raggi”) has successfully identified himself, and the publisher is the individual he quotes.
First, I did not "trumpet" my contributions to any publication; I listed them in the interest of full disclosure. (If Time-Warner lists what stock it owns when doing a news story in TIME Magazine, I felt compelled to be no less honest. I guess that honesty isn’t always the best policy.) If I were of a mind to “trumpet”, I would have listed several others that I have written for, and the games I’ve edited and developed, etc., etc., etc., ad nauseum.
Second, I am not "bragging" about my DF thread; I simply used it as a reference to the fact that a great many of us "old salts" have spent considerable time answering questions the past few years, about everything from how decisions were made then to the way we play our own games now.
As a history teacher, revisionist history rubs me the wrong way. I find it particularly suspect when it is apparent that the revisionists have done little or no research in any attempt to understand context. Steve Marsh, Rob Kuntz, Frank Mentzer, Jim Ward, Zeb Cook and myself (and these are only the ones I know about personally) all have threads one or more places where we gladly answer these types of questions. I don’t preach on how to play the game; I preach about having fun playing.
As I try to get a handle on this whole self-identified movement, I see several people speaking of it as though it were their doing; so who is honest and who is not? I don’t really care, but it puzzles me. In reading various threads, looking at numerous websites and even viewing a couple of blogs, I find more negative didactism (“that is wrong; this is right), dogmatism and dictatorial behavior evinced in the “Old School Revival” movement than was ever the case back where we all began. How did this happen? This also puzzles me.
Some of what I have read lately would be akin to my trumpeting the fact that I can print a prettier Bible than Gutenberg did, without once ceding the point that without the invention of movable type I would not have collected nearly 2500 fonts for my PC.
I chose to get involved in this because of what I perceived as an egregious failure to credit the foundation of what became this hobby that so many of us love. Mr. Raggi's self-congratulatory crowing about "better,” without once acknowledging that foundation upon which he built is disingenuous at best.
The fact that my (apparently) misguided attempt at full disclosure is twisted to become vainglory; the fact that I cite an example of readily available information is then distorted into “crowing,” what kind of game is this?
On yet another blog, my very credentials are being called into question, as well as my actual contributions to the game. Rob and I know the truth. I have long made the facts available whenever asked specifics; I have never felt the need to define “my” contribution to the game as we all felt that it was “our” game. Now I am having other thread posts cast in a light that does them discredit as they are being cited as an example of my supposed bias against AD&D as they are cited totally out of context. Why would I be biased against AD&D? I helped Gary Gygax define what became AD&D; it was my job. That I prefer to play my version of D&D (3 LBBs and 1st 3 Supp.), does not mean that I am biased. We all put a lot of stuff in the various rules for the purpose of allowing people to opt out of doing all the work. Sadly, we figured common sense would always rule; we were wrong.
I was not bragging about my DM abilities (I’ll let Rob do that); I was pointing out the apparent culture-shock induced by my “loosey-goosey” style as opposed to being bound by endless charts, tables and die rolls. We weren’t there to look at books, we were there to have an adventure.
I admit that I used a couple of harsh terms, and I publicly apologize to any individual that assumed that I was skewering them.
Now, it has been brought to my attention once more that Mr. Raggi has made overtures to contact me privately. No.
Public disputation should be settled in public.
1st full time employee for TSR
Founding Editor of Dragon Magazine
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