Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Is The OSR Better Than TSR?

Has the Student become the Master?

That’s the claim that James Raggi made yesterday at his site. On one hand, it’s very difficult to argue that we are seeing some high-quality products right now that generally beat some of the old TSR product in terms of accessibility, layout, and usability. That’s largely to be expected, a few decades later; we’ve had over 30 years to refine the product, and new tools to use when designing that product.

In terms of game content, well, that’s tricky. Are we talking 1981 products or 1986 (Jim makes it clear in his post he’s discussing pre-1989)? Some of the later modules (past about ’85) definitely weren’t the peer of the older adventures. And I sincerely place works such as the Castle of the Mad Archmage or Death Frost Doom at least in the same company as some of the early TSR modules. But I still think that there’s a reason modules like Keep on the Borderlands have lasted in our gaming consciousness as long as they have. Those were our first products, our introduction to the hobby. To supplant those types of legendary adventures, well, you’re battling against nostalgia, and you’re battling against a shared experience. Some of the dungeons currently being designed out there are probably technically superior to a number of earlier TSR entries. Fair or not, though, that’s what they’re fighting against—an established legacy.

So yes, I think in terms of layout and accessibility, what those currently participating in the neoclassical movement are creating is something that could give the organization and display of those old modules a run for their money. In terms of enjoyment, fun, and dungeon design, I’m not sure I could pick a single group as better than the other—I can’t judge TSR’s work as one lump sum, nor should I even try.

In the end, though, the thing that the current old-school community has for it over TSR is how much it’s seen me involved in creating and sharing with others. The accessibility, the countless outlets for expression—sure, those are signs of the times and the internet, but it wouldn’t be the same without all the cool people making it happen. That doesn’t often happen like that under a strict corporate umbrella.

So, to review, I find myself cheerfully indecisive on the whole business. I’m sure Jim’s original post will be delightful cannon fodder somewhere, but that it’s even being discussed shows how far the entire OSR idea has come.


WalkerP said...

"Better" is pretty tough to define, but it says something about the product today when all the top threads in the D&D section at are basically announcements about what new game items WotC has introduced or changed and gamers' reaction to them. It's very passive and hierarchical and seems to me to be missing an important element of the creative process, the part where you create stuff! I'm not saying it's not creative, but now it seems that more and more 4e players are all about creatively using the pieces that the company gives them instead of making their own stuff up.

That's up to others to decide if that is good or bad. I personally want no part of it.

Tim Brannan said...

I can't agree with James for many of the reasons you site.

I love my OSR books and I think the OSR has been a good thing for gaming, but to forget or ignore that the OSR did not spontaneously rise out nothing is a disservice.

Had it not been for those original works AND the 3.0 version of D&D and OGL, more than half of those OSR products would not exist.

Rob Conley said...

The OSR is more diverse with all that implies in terms of quality and subjects.

Whether that is better is up to the person asking the question. I think mainly because we are insuring that OD&D, AD&D, and other early edition are continuing to played things are better.

Which after all the point of the exercise.

DeadGod said...

I think you are spot-on about the nostalgia. I made an observation about myself the other day: I like new games and read through as many RPG systems as I can get my hands on. I will often want to use a system just because it is the "new hotness." On the other hand, when I look at an OSR product, it instead makes me want to go crack open my old books. Nostalgia wins out, and I want to use the books with all the artwork and layout that I remember and love.

And @WakerP: Not to be confrontational, but I feel that WotC has done a great job of putting tools in the DM's pocket to create things. This is the first D&D system where I feel 100% confident that I know the numbers behind the system and can better create things to fit my expectations. I understand a lot of grognards will call out, "but the game world shouldn't always be fair and ballanced!" To which I reply, "and it doesn't have to be--WotC have given me the tools to know exactly how to measure and craft such things."

Those "pieces that the company gives" actually increase the freedom of creation--each can be viewed as a new object placed in your toolbox, ready to ease the job of creation in the future.

Maybe that is something the OSR is doing: giving us more tools to run the classic games.

Tim Shorts said...

This is one of those comparsions of eras. To me it's not a valid discussion (but I still like yaking about them) because there were different things going on to create these movements. Its like the old sports comparision, are the football players today better than the ones in the 60s and 70s. You can try to compare and argue your point, but its all opion in the end.

Despite all this I will say TSR is better only because for without TSR, for me, there would be no OSR.