Why “Bad Actors” in the OSR Endanger the Hobby.

Outside of the hobby, the OSR is just a bunch of (older) D&D geeks. Most average Americans couldn’t distinguish between Ernie Gygax and Matt Mercer. Unless of course Ernie lets something ignorant slip (accidentally or on purpose.) Then, it’s “Did you hear that gamer guy say something racist?”

Recently, I’ve heard some of the Old Grognards making the case that every community has a few bad actors.

The Old School Renaissance (Revival) has been called out online for the racist, sexist, ableist, homophobic, and transphobic comments made by some unscrupulous individuals in the community. However, several members of the OSR community have not made good examples of themselves trying to defend the point that we’re not all bad. Then let’s discuss the claim that the OSR is too nebulous, widespread and diverse to be affected by these negative elements.

From there, it’s the same old songs and dances we’ve heard in almost every community on the internet. “Well, there’s only a few bad apples, they don’t speak for all of us.” And, “we’re sorry for their shitty behavior.” Or, “Obviously you’re ‘-ist’ because you’re calling it out.” And then my other favorite, “X community will never die because of that Old School spirit!”

As witnessed during the Satanic Panic, all it takes is for a few loudmouth, stupid, vocal stooges to make an entire community look bad.

Outside of the hobby, the OSR is just a bunch of (older) D&D geeks. Most average Americans couldn’t distinguish between Ernie Gygax and Matt Mercer. Unless of course Ernie lets something ignorant slip (accidentally or on purpose.) Then, it’s “Did you hear that gamer guy say something racist?”

That negative stereotype is going to stick around for a long time in the eyes of people already looking to judge the hobby or don’t know anything about it except that statement. I’ve seen it happen in so many communities, so many times, and damage so many reputations I just can’t let it slide. For whatever reason, (long explanation) humans tend to recall the negatives a lot more than the positives. All you have to do is watch the nightly news on any major station to see what I’m talking about.

“Well, we can’t really define the OSR and it’s so spread out.”

Yeah, we can’t define the OSR right up until we need to separate and divide ourselves from the rest of the RPG community. A bunch of us OGs (Old Geeks) don’t want to be associated with that new fangled D&D. We’d rather play the old, original version of the classic fantasy game. There are OSR gamers who staunchly claim they never looked at an edition of D&D after 2nd Ed AD&D.

When we (they, OSR) need to be a community, suddenly we’re everywhere. Yet when someone fires off harsh criticism of the OSR movement or ideals, well then there’s no one to be found. Or worse, the ones who do pipe up only serve the point that the criticism is fundamentally correct.

There are plenty of blogs (including this one) and YouTube channels that have defined the OSR. It’s a product, a community, an attitude- in total: IT’S A SUBCULTURE! That’s my definition. I know we don’t all agree. It’s something people (Old Grognards) identify with. Say whatever else you like, it’s a smaller part of the greater Role Playing Game culture.

Why is the OSR even a thing?

The short answer is because not all of us tabletop RPG family like the latest edition of D&D. We don’t all drink the proverbial Wizards of the Coast Kool-Aid so to speak. The OSR was born when D&D 3E came about, which coincidentally is when WotC took over the D&D properties from the bankrupt T$R.

Not everyone liked the new rules. As D&D grew in edition after edition, those of us who really enjoyed the old, original D&D/AD&D rules. More recently with 5E and the announcement of One D&D, reprints and retro clones (DCC, C&C, OSE, etc) became even more popular. It’s a big difference in attitude, statistics and play styles.

There are some other Old School games. Gamma World, Star Frontiers, Boot Hill, and Top Secret S.I. are all popular remakes. I mean, some of us still have our original copies, but not everyone. I also should mention some other really old school RPGs like Role Master, Tunnels & Trolls, Call of Cthulhu, and scores of others. The 1980s and 90s were a good time for RPGs.

It’s not about hate. Most of us harbor no ill will toward WotC. They hold most of the cards in the industry to this day. It’s hard to even challenge them, given they’re owned by Hasbro. Big, nameless, faceless, corporate empire is kinda neutral all things considered.

It’s about LOVE. We love those older rules sets! They are joy for those of us who grew up one them. Some things get better with age, like wine. Others get old and phased out, like computers. RPGs fall somewhere in the middle. If you loved it, you keep it around and teach friends to play.

If we say, “We’re good people,” can we maybe act like it?

Any day now, some reporter for a major news publication is going to latch onto Star Frontiers; New Genesis or some other batch of racist nonsense in the RPG community. Yeah, wait until cancel culture turns ugly for the RPG crowd overall. There’s going to come a point where the “bad actors” may have already spoken for all of us.

According to some, the RPG community is widespread and hard to pin down on much of anything. How could a specific subset of the community cause problems? Anyone who thinks a few motivated rabble rousers can’t make a mess has either never studied history or has been living under a rock. Not to mention the entire hobby was started in a basement by a couple of rabble rousers.

Sure, literally every community in the world, on the Internet, wherever- has its own share of bad actors. That’s true. Such is life.

Is it right to call that crap out when we see it? Absolutely! If we were teachers, we wouldn’t want known racists among us. If we were nurses, we wouldn’t want transphobes among us. If we were librarians, we wouldn’t want ableists hanging out with us, would we? I don’t think so.

A lot of respondents to Dave’s video about how The OSR is Dying have replied with more racist, phobic, fascist nonsense. What good is that doing? For the love of God, please start reinforcing the positives. Show off that yes, we’re not all a bunch of freaks for a change.

While I’m on the subject, please stop apologizing for the bad actors. Without naming names, we know who they are and what they’ve said. I feel bad for some of these guys who have tarnished their own legacies as well as their family’s. Maybe they can redeem themselves? But they have to want to change, and that’s seemingly not happening yet.

I might be barking in the dark on this one again.

Here’s the deal. If no one speaks out, nothing changes. I want to be as positive as possible. I intend to live in a world of joy, prosperity, and peace. It’s difficult to do that when I’m part of a (mostly online) community where people openly hate on my friends and family. That’s not to say racism, homophobia, transphobia, etc is ever okay. Just don’t do it.

No one wants to be told what edition of D&D to play, or even what games to play in general. OSR style games aren’t going away. OSR people? Well, a lot of us aren’t getting any younger. Dave from Gamers on Games is right. A lot of us in the RPG community aren’t always in the best health, either. Yeah, it’s likely a good number of OSR pundits are going to be gone in the next decade or two, myself included. Sad, but true.

Will the OSR subculture survive? Maybe. If enough people discover the greatness that is Old School Essentials by Necrotic Gnome, Castles & Crusades by Troll Lord Games, Dungeon Crawl Classics, or any of the other (some are free) games by other companies? Maybe the OSR legacy will continue.

I’m only able to do so much.

Sorry this interrupted our regularly scheduled, somewhat subdued blog schedule with this stuff. I’m one tiny blog. I care. I care about my community. I care what people say about the OSR because I sort of identify with that. (*Child of the 1980’s,)

I’m not going to apologize for the bad actors. I’m trying to be one of the good guys. I know there are plenty of other well-meaning, kind, understanding folx still out there in the OSR community and in the RPG community.

Thanks for stopping by. I appreciate you, as always. Please be kind to one another today.

Author: Jeff Craigmile

I'm a tabletop role-playing game writer and designer from Des Moines, Iowa. I'm the father of four boys and human to three cats.

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