Defining what I mean by Culture/Subculture.
Taking on TableTop RolePlaying Games and Dungeons & Dragons specifically and breaking them down into broader social groupings. Then, I’m going to narrow down the broad groups into more selective subcategories. Yes, I know this sounds a touch academic. Hey, just because I haven’t written a Sociology or Anthropology paper in 20 years doesn’t mean I’ve forgotten how.
“Why?” You ask.
Because some $Z*%^ing !&%^hatz decided to pop off on this notion that some people should be allowed to enjoy Dungeons & Dragons, and some shouldn’t. Around here, that’s called gatekeeping. And it’s just the wrong attitude to have toward other people as far as I’m concerned. (*My opinion, but I’m sure it’s shared with many other people.)
When last we left our heroes:
We defined the overall TTRPG community as having its own distinct culture. This culture is overarching- defining social norms, rules, mores, environments and customs of the overall gaming egregore. From there we defined D&D fandom as a very large subculture within the larger TTRPG culture. Sounds academic so far, yes?
Now we get to all of the smaller circles that fall into one or the other, sometimes both, sometimes many. It’s complicated and I’m not sure I can map it out properly, but I’m gonna try. See, herein lies the problem- some of the niche and/or cliques within the TTRPG culture and even the D&D subculture want to have distinct boundaries with one another. Some smaller subcultures wish to disassociate themselves while still attempting to influence the overall TTRPG culture. It just doesn’t work.
Segregation has been proven ineffective and ultimately leads to upheaval and conflict. If any community is every going to grow or expand, it will eventually have to establish relationships with other individuals outside of itself.
Let’s address the Old School Elephant in the room.
Ah yes, the Old School Renaissance/Revival/Resurrection/Renewal/ RolePlaying/Re-whatever-this-week. One can’t go online in any part of the RPG community these days without one of these guys rearing their heads. It’s mostly made up of older, cishet, white guys (Old, bitter Grognards) with some younger outliers and edgelords thrown in for good measure. There are tendrils of this subculture in D&D and many other subcultures within the RPG culture.
Unfortunately for Wizards of the Coast, the OSR crowd wants very little to do with D&D 5E or One D&D save rabidly complaining about it. Why people give up so much mental real estate for something they’re never going to buy, play, or even really review is a mystery to me. When you ask most of these guys about any edition after 2nd Ed AD&D, they’ll say, “It all sucks. Just play OSR.”
There are several RPG titles that fall under the OSR movement. Swords & Wizardry Light, Basic Fantasy Roleplaying, OSRIC, and Old School Essentials are prominent examples. Dungeon Crawl Classics has a bad reputation in the OSR because it’s more heavily based on 3/3.5 Ed D&D, making it not “true” OSR. The true irony is that the OSR would not likely exist without the 3E Open Game License granted by Wizards of the Coast. (The very edition and company the OSR claims to despise so much.)
I think the OSR is why the misguided marketing folx at WotC are trying to dissolve the notion of edition in One D&D. It’s not 6th Ed, WotC keeps trying to tell us. I hear OSR pundits referring to the work in progress as 6E regularly. I think my odds of scoring a job at WotC are better than their chances of selling One D&D to the OSR crowd.
Dear Wizards of the Coast,
The OSR crowd gave up on you when Third Edition D&D was released. Most of them only look at new editions of the game so they can complain. The only hope you have of turning these people into customers once more is to sell reprints of old Moldvay Basic/Expert boxed sets (complete with T$R logo and crusty dice) at discounted prices in physical stores.
Your notion of the 10-35 demographic is perfect for the newest version of D&D. Keep up the good work. You have the OSR figured out perfectly now.
All snide joking aside, the OSR is both a subculture and a counterculture at the same time.
Sometimes the OSR is so tight knit and closed-off they could almost be called a clique. Most of them are ethnocentric in terms of their views on RPGs. They have had the same narrow beliefs about the rest of the gaming community for decades and it’s not likely to ever change. I didn’t realize how bad it had gotten until this past fall when I watched them rip one of their biggest critics apart. (I’m not naming names to avoid their bitter anger turning against me.)
Their very presence at any gaming convention is both a blessing and a curse. Tables running Old School games tend to attract the old gamer crowd. However, the same tables running Old School games want absolutely nothing to do with about 75% of the rest of the convention. Many of them will try to discourage younger, LGBTQ, BIPOC players from joining in.
There are still a few good eggs in the #OSR. They’re becoming more scarce all the time. Personally, I used to be pro OSR, but now I’m pro Dungeon Crawl Classics because as much as I love old school D&D, I can’t stand some of the company I’d be in to try to run it again.
A lot of Old School pundits seem to see it as their solemn duty to preserve the older editions of D&D and push out anyone who is not like them. The problem is they’re trying desperately to preserve a set of values and beliefs whose very origins came from what we now consider hateful people. Gary Gygax, known as the creator of D&D is known for saying women don’t belong at the gaming table. Some of the biggest names at early T$R were pretty vocal bigots, misogynists, anti LGBTQ, and more. Why do we want to preserve that?
The OSR pundits throw around buzzwords such as “respect” and “inclusivity.” But do they really mean it? I personally have doubts because I’ve seen them royally dump on anyone who is not-them. Just don’t say, “The OSR is dying,” or suddenly a big, allegedly unorganized, nebulous mob will go out of their way to destroy you on social media and YouTube.
But, hey. What do I know? Most OSR aficionados don’t read my blog any more than Matt Mercer or WotC’s people. I guess that’s okay? It’s the Internet. I’m sure someone would get offended.
As far as the actual games themselves go, these retro clones like Old School Essentials, they’re pretty good. They’re basically old D&D refined. I like Old School Essentials Advanced rules. Someday I hope to track down physical copies of the books. The rules as uncluttered, simple, and easy to teach. The games themselves run smoothly because the rules have been tested and in some cases modified many times over. It’s not the rules, it’s the people running the game.
The fantasy RPG community in general is far larger than one might imagine.
Once one gets beyond the D&D, Pathfinder, and OSR communities with their various splinter groups and-sub subcultures, there are groups of devout fantasy gamers who are into other games. Admittedly, these games fit in smaller niche categories in many cases. None of them have anywhere near the notoriety that D&D has, but they have a following.
Some of these games have been around as long as D&D. Their fans are super dedicated to preserving the history and culture surrounding these games. A few, such as Lord of the Rings, have changed companies, systems, and titles multiple times and continue to evolve. Games such as Runequest, Tunnels and Trolls, Role Master, Harn, along with dozens of other games still have an almost cult following. Overall, fantasy games are the more prevalent and obvious part of the RPG hobby culture.
Thank you for stopping by. Part 3 of this series will be out soon. I haven’t gotten into other genres and there is a lot to talk about.