Tuesday, June 17, 2014

What's All This OSR Taliban Noise?


Yesterday I feel down a rabbit hole that was started with a single post on the RPG site. For the first time I ran across the term "OSR Taliban." It's an odd term that has a slew of undeserved connotations that should never have been associated with a hobby where we create imaginary characters to kill fictional creatures and take their stuff. Yet there it was.
Since some people seem to think that "OSR Taliban" is a brand-new term I specifically invented on account of certain responses to the news about the D&D starter set or the Basic D&D PDF. Likewise, some people seem to want to pretend that when I used that term it means that I think ALL the OSR (which, let's remember, I count myself as a member of) are like a 'taliban'.

For the record, the term "OSR Taliban" is several years older than the recent controversy. It does NOT refer to just anyone who isn't gushingly enthusiastic about 5e.

It does refer to that extremist wing of the OSR (fortunately now in a diminishing minority, but who a few years back seemed to be main movers of the OSR's ideas and 'gatekeepers' for it) who engage in "old school extremism", who only want to play the original editions or precise clones, who deride any mechanic created after a certain date (the date varies, and they get into contests of "who is more old school" by competing as to what cutoff date they use). They often claim to seek some kind of UR-D&D by looking at long-lost notes of Gygax or Arneson's. In short, the guys who think that if you are using anything in RPGs made after 1983, or 81, or 79, or 74 (or sometimes even earlier!) then you are "betraying old school". These are the people who just wanted the OSR to be a long string of identical "clone" games after another, and reject any innovation whatsoever. . . . (The RPG Pundit)
The idea that the term was older than the Pundit's recent vitriolic ramblings had me intrigued. Where had the term originated and did it mean what the Pundit claimed or had he bent the term to his own ends?

As I began to research the term I found it cropping up in odd places with people I liked taking it on as though it were a badge of honor - +James Maliszewski of Grognardia even went so far as to proclaim himself the "Diabolical leader of the Old School Taliban" (see the comments in Speaking of Greg Costikyan . . . for more). At times it seemed that the term took on a life of its own growing to encompass the entirety of the Old School Renascence and then shrinking to include only that vocal minority who stoutly proclaimed that their way of playing a game with funny dice was the only acceptable way and the rest of us were fools for believing in other styles of play. 

Then I found the earliest reference to the term in a 2009 post on RPG.net. In a thread started by +James Raggi that began with him telling the whole world why he liked older games that found +Mike Mearls responded with the following:
I think the OP's list is a fine summation of a lot of the good things present in pre-3e versions of D&D. I own copies of OSRIC, Swords & Wizardry, and Mutant Future because I like that stuff in my games.

I don't believe that all of that those things are possible only in older versions of D&D. The truth of the matter is that a lot of that stuff is still in the game. 4e is no more or less deadly than any edition of D&D, because at the end of the day the DM determines how deadly the game is.

And I think that's the root of it. All too often I see "problems" with 4e placed on the players and DMs. Players are precious snowflakes who want everything handed to them on a silver platter. DMs are wimps who feed players a steady stream of disposable enemies. Real, bad ass men flip a coin to see if their character is dead or alive.

I think the OSR catches so much flack because, for those of us who have been in the hobby for a few decades, we saw this all before when White Wolf launched Vampire. It's the same thing, just with the added attempt to co-opt the "true" nature of D&D. Back then, it was role vs. roll. Today, it's new vs. old, and it's just as tiresome, time wasting, and banal as ever.

There are many, many fine qualities to older versions of D&D. They're more freeform. It's faster and easier to crank out a character. Combat zips by. When you pull away a lot of the rules, it can be liberating.

However, the Puritanical drive some OSRers have to bemoan what other, lesser games dare do at their tables is counter to everything that RPGs are about. Quoting Gygax chapter and verse to figure out the right way to play, stuff like that, is the antithesis to the creativity, freedom, and intellectual curiosity RPGs, at their best, can and should encourage.

So yeah, old games are cool. The gaming Taliban? Not so cool. Let's enjoy retro games without getting all bitchy about new ones. (Why I Like Earlier Edition Games Comment #18)
There it was in those last two lines, "the gaming Taliban." A poor choice of words that would find itself appearing in another form, "the OSR Taliban," in forums and blog posts years later. It's clear that Mearls was directing his comments at the sort of quasi-religious fundamentalism that has gripped this hobby from time to time where individuals are trying to proselytize their one, true, version of Dungeons and Dragons while disparaging all others. Yet why did he make the comment here when Raggi began the thread talking about what he liked in older versions of the game without condemning newer versions?

After a bit of investigation it becomes clear that Mearls wasn't responding directly to Raggi's current opening post but rather to several of his older posts where Raggi had been increasingly verbose in his negativity about newer editions of Dungeons and Dragons, and in particular, Fourth Edition. His strident fundamentalism, and that of other posters, that nothing older than version X of Dungeons and Dragons could be considered an acceptable form of entertainment appears to have been the reason for Mearls comments. Mearls would go on to acknowledge as much when he wrote the following:
. . . Apologies for dredging up the past. Seriously, that's not called for. My post has been quoted, so I don't think there's any point in deleting it at this point.

More constructively, I think old school games encourage the creative problem solving that hooked a lot of people on RPGs in the first place. If you look at 4e, it's easy for players to see their powers and feats as the be all, end all of their options. Without prodding, it's easy for a player's line of sight to begin and end at the character sheet.

In some ways, the skill challenge rules in 4e, along with the DC guidelines on page 42, are an attempt to bridge that gap. On the other hand, you can simply wonder why the game moved in the direction it did. Why wasn't 4e (or 3e before it) designed in a similar style?

Starting in 1989 or so, with the publication of The Complete Fighter's Handbook, D&D slowly but steadily began to offer more depth of options to players. As it turned out, players really like that. In fact, you can see that drive toward customization in lots and lots of games.

I can go on about this, but I want to get my apology out there and avoid further derailing the thread . . . (Why I Like Earlier Editions Comment #37)
The damage had been done by that point though; but it was a fleeting damage that would quickly be forgotten as newer controversies came to the foreground and it was forgotten. That is until it started being used recently to describe a rather vocal group of trolls who are using it to wage the latest front in an edition war that's already lost before they began spitting their words on the screen.

40 comments:

  1. using such terms can be confusing, and needless. It really means to polarize matters, which highlights non-constructive discourse.
    Do mean to sound like a hippy but why can't they just accept the differences in tastes and philosophy in a hobby of imagination? Anyway I'm glad its dying down, and more gamers seem to be immunized in this kind of thing.

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  2. Honestly, to me these petty disputes that lead to nothing just bore me. So we're talking about a game! Everyone has the right to enjoy themselves as they fit without root with obstinacy or simil "religious faith"... there is already a real life that infects us with these sad!

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  3. If these kinds of conversations and arguments were popping up on board game forums about Monopoly or Scrabble, we'd be pointing and laughing at those anal-retentive idiots. Extrapolate what you will.

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    1. That does lend a bit of perspective to the whole thing, doesn't it?

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  4. clearly you have the biggest dnd tatoos you win, thats how its always rolled bro

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    1. Damn! I have no tattoos so I lose all arguments. :(

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  5. I prefer "Dice-Czar" or "D & Jihad"
    Actually
    I have no preference, it's silly.
    Terms like D&D Taliban are the definition of non-constructive. As other respondents have mentioned I'm really glad we are moving away form that sort of thing.

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  6. You don't need to come up with a special term for people who act like jerks.

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  7. And folks wonder why I cut off my contact with places on the web like RPG Forum, RPG.net, odd74, Knights and Knaves Alehouse, the Tekumel Yahoo group, Dragonsfoot, etc. , etc.

    I am sick to death of this sort of thing, and I don't see why I should have to suffer through 'discussions' about it. I've gotten my ass reamed enough times by these people for having the temerity to have lived through those times, and then - oh, horrors!!! - writing about what I saw when I played with three guys named Gary, Dave, and Phil.

    Chirine has left the building, and he ain't coming back. If you want to come along for the ride in my basement, you're certainly welcome to - see my little effort at a blog, if you would.

    "We made stuff up, and we had fun!" - Dave Arneson

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    1. That's why I typically don't go to forums either.

      "Chirine has left the building, and he ain't coming back. If you want to come along for the ride in my basement, you're certainly welcome to - see my little effort at a blog, if you would."

      Wait, does that mean you won't be coming by my blog anymore? That would really suck.

      Delete
    2. No, I will still drop by here; I have you on the front page of my blog as "Somebody Worth Listening To". What I am doing is cutting my participation in forums; I have no time or energy for it - I can paint and write, or I can get kicked in the teeth.

      - chirine

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    3. Ah, good. I got concerned there for a minute. :)

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  8. One more reason I do not now, nor have I ever, nor will I in the future, consider myself part of the OSR.

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    1. The problem I find that leads to this sort of name calling is extremism. Extremism whether you're talking about politics, religion, or games is always a detriment.

      Delete
  9. On the one hand, I can understand the sentiment behind the term. It can be frustrating to try to have a discussion about a new edition, or even just a newer edition, with someone who is enthusiastic about it like you are, only to have some grognard come in tell you why this new edition (is going to) sucks. People who WANT to hate it, will find any reason they can, and voice them vehemently. It does destroy the conversation as surely as an IED.

    However, using that phrase is in poor taste. There are many other ways to describe these people. And honestly, "Troll" fits on several levels, so why not just use that? It's tried and true.

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  10. Ok... It's official. "OSR Taliban" is out. "OSR Troll" is in. ;)

    To use another infamous quote:
    "Why can't we all just get along?"

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    1. Getting along is relatively easy until you run into someone who refuses to show the common respect that each of us deserves. That individual pops up in every community - especially online - and is always the reason why conversations turn sour.

      Delete
  11. "OSR Taliban" is an iteration/mutation in the ilk of "Godwin's Law". A thread's damaged and likely pointless (unless about the "OSR Taliban") when it comes up.

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    1. You're absolutely correct JDJarvis.

      Oh, and as a side note, thank you for introducing me to the term "Godwin's Law." Before you brought it up I had never heard of it and it makes complete sense.

      Delete
  12. So.... do we need to worry about anyone blowing up shipments of the new D&D 5th Edition books?

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    1. Ha!

      That would be the strangest terrorist threat to ever cross the FBI's radar!

      Delete
  13. Does this mean I can't shave next time I run my OD&D based game?

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    1. I thought they took away your razor the minute you started looking at OD&D books? Or is that just my wife being a jerk again?

      Delete
  14. Thanks for digging that stuff up. Very interesting. Well, it looks like the OSR has had the biggest influence on 5e, so I'll take that as a win.

    This brings up the question, did Mearls handpick RPGPundit as D&D consultant because he adopted the term "OSR Taliban"? If so, what the fuck sense does that make since 5e was intended to be a lot more old school than 3e or 4e. Because he knew RPGPundit wouldn't go too far off the grognard scale? Perhaps...

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    1. I've noticed a lot of OSR bloggers declaring 5e a win for the cause, but is it? We can infer that the market rejected Fourth Edition - though there is an argument to be made that this didn't truly occur until after the new system was announced and the Playtest was released to the public - but can we honestly say that the a fractured movement such as the OSR actually contributed to it's downfall?

      Interesting questions . . .

      "did Mearls handpick RPGPundit as D&D consultant because he adopted the term "OSR Taliban"? If so, what the fuck sense does that make since 5e was intended to be a lot more old school than 3e or 4e. Because he knew RPGPundit wouldn't go too far off the grognard scale?"

      Is that true? I've not seen that announced anywhere.

      Delete
    2. Charles Akins writes: "I've noticed a lot of OSR bloggers declaring 5e a win for the cause, but is it?"

      This is an interesting question that I've seen a number of people write about and we may not have a clear answer for several years, if at all. This also depends on how you define "win". For instance...

      1) Hypothetical #1: 5e is very popular even among the old-school players. Now, there's only so many consumer gaming dollar available in a niche market. If 5e wins back some players from the pool of OSR gamers, does that mean they may spend less on the smaller independent publishers? Or perhaps they are only really interested in buying the new PHB, so they would still be able to spend dollars on independently published adventures, etc. One scenario could be considered a "loss", the other a "win". It could go either way.

      2) Hypothetical #2: 5e doesn't really drain money away from OSR publishers, but it does drain some players away from the more popular OSR systems. For fans of S&W or Basic Fantasy, they may have a harder time filling their table because the already small player base is attracted to the new shiny and is less interested in the retro publishers.

      3) or OSR gamers were just looking for WotC to steer the mother ship back in the direction of their preferred play style, so regardless of #1 or #2, it's a "win" in that the market pressures achieved that goal.

      From my perspective, the OSR niche players likes to support the niche publishers, so #1 and #2 are unlikely. The effect on that part of the movement will probably not change much at all. Number 3 may be the "victory" that the OSR movement claims.

      Honestly, for me it's only a victory if D&D brings in new players to the hobby. From that perspective, 4th Edition didn't actually do that badly. If may have alienated older players, which hurt overall sales, but the outreach to new players was pretty good. Here's hoping old and new can sit around a table together over the next years.

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    3. The OSR didn't influence 5e because we're a strong lobbying group. It influenced 5e because we're right: when D&D veers towards an old school style of play, it's demonstrably better than styles that are opposed to it. The demonstration is in 4e's failure. Sure, it attracted a few new people, but then so would a stack of old newspapers with D&D scribbled on it. 5e will generate new interest and blood into the hobby. That's the hope. I believe it will.

      RPGPundit was a paid consultant for 5e. Mike Mearls is one of the head D&D R&D guys who worked on 5e. That's all I know. The rest is speculation.

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    4. Two things: (1) Fourth Edition only lost in the sales categories that we can observe (i.e. retailer surveys through ICv2) after the announcement of a new edition. Prior to that it consistently ranked as the number one selling role-playing game on the market. (2) Where was Pundit's consultation status announced? I've often wondered how they announce such things.

      Delete
  15. It's all wankery. You play what would be considered an OSR game. Good on ya! But to say my game is better than yours and having some huge diatribe about it, is just plain wankery. No matter what banners they're waving for what game, they need to calm their asses down and simply promote the hobby.

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    1. Well, I'm of the opinion that 4th edition almost killed D&D. It absolutely killed my interest in it for two years and almost stopped me from roleplaying altogether.

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    2. " It absolutely killed my interest in it for two years and almost stopped me from roleplaying altogether."

      I simply don't understand. How could a new edition of the game stop you from role-playing? You had other games available if you didn't like the new one - including older versions that you presumably liked - so how could this one stop you?

      Delete
    3. "I'm of the opinion that 4th edition almost killed D&D. It absolutely killed my interest in it..."

      That's...that's quite the faulty (from a Logic 101 standpoint) generalization there.

      "...almost stopped me from roleplaying altogether."

      Gotta agree with Our Host. How does one disliked ruleset affect, well, anything as it pertains to gaming? "I don't like 4th...so guess it's back to [insert favorite edition here]." It's a non-issue.

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    4. Perhaps all the local players in Venger's area refused to play anything but 4E? Speculation.

      I've personally never met any gamers who refuse to play anything besides 4E, but I have met gamers who refuse to play anything besides AD&D 1E in one case and Pathfinder in two cases.

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    5. Perhaps all the local players in Venger's area refused to play anything but 4E? Speculation.

      I've personally never met any gamers who refuse to play anything besides 4E, but I have met gamers who refuse to play anything besides AD&D 1E in one case and Pathfinder in two cases.

      Delete

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