Saturday, 2 April 2011

OSR = Original Standard Rules

Wrong OSR, sadly - love the crab!
Let's make the reasonable assumption that an experienced DM running a version of D&D can run an adventure written for the One Page Dungeon contest, from which system-specific stats are purposefully banned. The more rules-light, the quicker to conjure up monster statblocks, improvise skill-like procedures, and do whatever else it takes.

Let's also assume that even the experienced DM would like some stats in the adventure, as long as that information fits the system they're using.

Let's further assume that there is such a variety of base, clone, and home-brewed systems being played that the best anyone can achieve is partial fit. What stats, at minimum, can an author provide that meet that fit for the most people?

I'm wary of ever achieving an opinion-based consensus. I mean, over on the right are 25 different blogs I follow. If you got all their authors in a room together you'd get 50 different opinions.

I'm more optimistic about an objective rule to build consensus. Look. We're all playing D&D here, with or without serial numbers filed off. There have been six major versions of D&D (Original+Supplements, AD&D, Basic, 2nd Ed. AD&D, 3rd Ed., 4th Ed.) Let's partially route around the quirks of the Zero and Latest Editions, and base our judgments on this rule: A game element is only Standard D&D if it appears in 5 out of 6 of these versions. 

Even 4th? Yes. Wizards may have taken a RotoRooter to the game mechanics but they have shrewdly preserved, in name, most of the elements that make up the game's persistent identity.

Next post I'll lay out what this means in more detail, because it's not without twists and oddities.

I have seen Chad Thorson's logo idea and Thomas Denmark's suggestions for its use. Let me propose a more specific rule for what I think Thomas was getting at.

OSR as a brand name for me makes most sense as:
  • "Original" - because D&D is the original roleplaying game, without violating copyright, or being coy about the issue.
  • "Standard" - if a supplement or adventure is mechanics-free except for the Standard elements of the game, it will automatically be compatible with all related systems. Any further details of the system the author is using should be explained, or handled by making a reference to a published product. Any further fine-tuning to fit the system the DM is using is the DM's responsibility.
  • "Rules" - because that is really what we are doing at a minimal level that everyone can agree on. Not everyone is into a Renaissance, Revival, Revolution, Revanchism, Rearguard, Revelation, Raid, Regurgitation, Rap-battle, or Riot. 
More later, but let me know if this makes sense to you right now.


  1. Makes perfect sense to me. Although, off the top of my head, the only stats that exist in all versions of the game are: AC, Level/Hit Dice, and to some extent the concept of a "Save".

    Everything except 4th ed has Spell Slots Per Day, and even 4th ed has something quite similar to that. I also seem to recall that most editions list the intelligence of monsters, at the very least as a possible range.

  2. OSR: Only Sensible Rulings. That is what defines OSR for me. Your post makes sense to me right now, but I still wouldn't want to see it based on a rules criteria. Any of the rules, from OE to 4th edition, IMHO, can be played 'Old School'. It is a frame of mind, 'go with the rules you can remember at the table, if you forget, don't open a book and stop the fun. Just make a ruling and move on.' Granted older versions fit better with OSR because there is less to remember, but again, I believe rules don't make OSR - the style of play does. Maybe: Only Seat-of-the-pants Rulings?

    Just my novice thoughts on the matter, but I do look forward to your next post!


  3. @Bane: I agree, so I should make clear what I'm talking about is purely a rules guideline for printed material, not any pronouncement on how to play the game. Although the minimal approach will then promote precisely the play style you mention!

  4. I'm tired, no coffee, and want to make sure I grok it. So, I gather if we define what that minimal guideline is (to be compatible with 5/6 versions), and nothing more, then we are promoting not rules but rulings?

    So, slept like... well...

  5. Damn, I love that crab. Can we license it from them?

    As far as the content of your post, I don't think rules differences are the problem. From what I can tell the main divergence across those editions is how much the focus is on overcoming obstacles through direct conflict. Basically encounters.

    And what that means is a product aimed at newer players needs to focus creative energy on encounters, but little else. I'll never forget the winner of the new school category for the first OPD contest was a single linear path through rooms of encounters ending in a big boss battle.

    Conversely, on old school module with tons of thought into pinch points and Jacquaying would be considered laughable by some if it just lists encounters as a one line entry: 2 Orcs 2HD AC12 DMG 1d8, etc.

    Not to say I'm not interested in you exploring the commonalities.

  6. For me OSR boils down to:

    Old School Re-Boot.

    The first misnomer there is D&D. D&D alone is not old school. So is T&T, RQ, GW, etc.

    The Re-Boot involves resetting the clock to a point and going in a different direction, away from 'industry' to hobby or hobby business at most. Back before it was about moving units and finding new ways to squeeze money out of people.

    I think the Re-Boot applies more to D&D just because the current trend toward rules-lite reflects the origins of the hobby. One look at Rolemaster or Runequest from the same time period shows that.

    I like the new things rising up and look forward to seeing what happens as it grows into new areas of modern gaming.

  7. @TC: Agreed, and I do have my doubts about the appeal of low game-detail material to users of newer editions, for whom conversion means a lot of work and they'd rather just have it all laid out beforehand. Then again, people are always re-statting old modules, old monsters, etc. ... At least this exercise if nothing else can identify the core branding elements of the system.

    @AD&DG: It's for this reason I'm switching from "OSR" to "Original Standard" (no Rules). I realize now that for many people OSR is a whole Movement, whereas I just want to discuss what the minimum standard is when writing supplements and new rulesets. Anyway, yeah, it's definitely a gritty re-boot ...