Old School Somewhat Conflicted GM

It’s sad to think some people lean on OSR style games to justify the same old attitudes of hate, fear, and separation in the real world.

This is now my third take on this article.

I keep getting partway into this particular subject and then bailing out. This is mostly due to the fact that I am concerned about offending someone. I want you all to know I am grateful you are here. Thank you!

I see something of a conflict between new and old gamers, at least on social media.

This usually takes place in the form of the D&D edition wars. Some people learned the game in Fifth Edition. Some of us have been around since BECMI or even White Box D&D. And of course every edition in between then and now has its own rabid fanbase.

Some designers even miss the old editions so much that they’ve redrawn the old rules in newer books. Collectively this is called the OSR movement or “Old School Renaissance” I usually say Old School Rules or Old School Revival. It’s all basically the same idea. Someone takes the original Basic, First Ed AD&D or Second Ed AD&D and puts it back out under their own banner with a few minor adjustments here and there.

The conflict “is not what you think” as one of my favorite YouTube channels likes to say.

The biggest problem I’ve seen lately seems to stem from one of two sources. “Old” gamers who have gotten frustrated with all the immense rules changes and add-ons in 5E who want to go back to simpler times. This is in contrast to the 5E players who have grown up in a more social and political environment who see the older editions as inherently racist, homophobic, or transphobic.

I’m going to pick on @matthewmercer for a moment only because I know good old Matt won’t ever read this or comment on it. (I’m too far below his station.) “The Matt Mercer Effect” as it is called causes tension and sometimes divide at the table because us “Old Grognards” have been running D&D for literally decades without a camera on before Critical Role came around. I’m not saying anyone’s take is better or worse. But sometimes it is a bit daunting to compare one’s own game to the shiny TV/Internet version of D&D. Honestly, I think a lot of new players are intimidated by anything that isn’t D&D 5E or Pathfinder 2E.

Photo by Anete Lusina on Pexels.com
Please understand: These are my observations and opinions based on said. Please run your game at your table your way.
Also, I do not hate Critical Role, Matt Mercer, or anyone else for race, gender, political orientation or sexual preferences. Let’s focus on love, please.

Someone mentioned that most of us “Old, (bitter,) Grognards” hate Critical Role. I see a degree of pretentiousness on both sides and it makes me sort of sick to my stomach if I’m being honest. The “new kids” seem to think that only actual play podcasts like Critical Role are “real roleplaying.” All of us old guys shake our heads when we watch these younger pups with their political correctness and handholding ways. (I get that I sound divisive and dismissive there, but I’m trying to make my point.) Both sides are right and wrong at the same time.

I’m going to be blunt for a moment. The RPG industry was built by old, mostly cishet white guys. HOWEVER, that is not to say it has remained that way or has to remain that way. If the last couple of years have taught us anything it’s that the industry can change. People can change. We’re evolving.

1977 D&D is not even remotely the same animal as 5E D&D. If Gary Gygax and Matt Mercer could swap places for a day and each run the other’s game, I daresay people would be crying and running out of the room from both tables with bruised egos and hurt feelings all around. D&D’s origins are steeped in ___phobic or ___cist behaviors. Again, it doesn’t have to stay that way.

14 year old me was confused by the race relations table in AD&D Unearthed Arcana.

Please hear me out on this one. A LOT of older D&D games contain a high degree of racial tension between the Humans, Dwarves, Elves, and Halflings (The demi-human races that used to have their own classes.) and the “dark races” such as the Orcs, Goblins, Drow, Duergar, and Draconians. The origins of those racial tensions go all the way back to Tolkien and WotC is just now getting around to really changing the basic premise behind races in D&D which I will save for another article.

I’m sort of ashamed to admit it, but I’m a big fan of some of the older campaigns that had some pretty ugly racial blunders in them. My beloved Oriental Adventures, Birthright, and even good old Greyhawk were pretty much a product of an older way of thinking about race. I prefer to keep the stuff I love from those settings and toss out the rest. That’s just how I do it, not that it’s for everyone. There is never a good justification for hate when it comes to race, religion, gender, sexual preference, etc. So, just don’t.

So, yes, OSR gets a pretty bad reputation, mostly from people who use it to justify the same old, tired, closed, narrow mindsets that include hate toward other members of real world human society. It’s really sad to think that we’re in a global age of communications and people can still be stuck so far in the past. On the bright side, we have to learn sometime. Many of us have evolved in our way of thinking as it applies to people in the real world and in games.

On that note, I’m signing off for the night. Please keep praying for peace. Please be kind to one another today. Please keep gaming. Gaming is good. Thank you for being here. I appreciate you.

Dimensions in Character

A few tips and examples for new players when creating characters. Please keep it simple. I can’t stress that enough.

Player tip: Keep it simple!

I wanted to put out a very common piece of advice for new players in any RPG. Please do yourself a favor and keep your character’s personality, backstory, and description as short and uncomplicated as reasonably possible? You can fill in or retcon some details as you go. GM’s typically don’t want to see a six page backstory that is going to trap them into some sort of convoluted plotline that only serves one character.

Keep it open ended. Keep it simple. Work with the party. If you want to play the angsty loner, then you’d better have good motivations for getting with the group and staying with them. If you have six solid, separate, distinct personality traits on your character, please make sure you can play them all without sounding schizophrenic. (Unless one of them is “schizophrenic.” )

It’s okay to play a one or two dimensional character. You can have a knuckle dragging barbarian with a club whose only real motivation is food. There’s a lot of room to grow. “Oog like pretty lady. Okay, where food?” is a great opening for character growth. As a GM, that’s gold right there. Now we have an opening for Oog the Barbarian to excel at something besides hitting stuff. Now Oog might be motivated to try to win the heart of the fair gnome princess instead of just trying not to step on her trying to get to the banquet table.

It’s okay to play a dwarf fighter who lives to shoot his crossbow and hit stuff with an axe. Suppose the elf bard in the party wants to teach him how to dance? Now there’s a subplot. GMs like that because we don’t even have to step in and it’s golden. That way the next time the PCs appear at a court function, the dwarf doesn’t have to guard the horses outside.

Which is a lot easier than having a backstory for the fighter that was tragically orphaned at birth, then his adoptive parents were eaten by two different dragons and his long lost sister turned out to be a witch… It’s not so terrible saying your character had a relatively normal and stable childhood. It’s okay to make a character that is angst free and can trust people, too. Just because you’re a shifty, shady rogue, doesn’t mean you have to treat other characters like dirt.

Not all of us are cut out for the cast of Critical Role. Don’t get me started. I’m no Matt Mercer and I don’t expect anyone, especially a new player, to act like their character is ready for their own animated series. If you can do a voice for your character, awesome! If not and you just manage to tell me what you want your character is doing, we’re good!

GMs and other players are a good source of inspiration and character development! Please, as long as you’re putting in the effort to show up, pay some attention, and have fun, that’s all we can ever ask. Just try to participate when you can, roll some dice, have your character sheet mostly in order and be a part of the group. Honest, the rest will fill itself in.

You can’t get it wrong. Go easy on yourself. Enjoy the game.

Until next time, stay safe. Please try to stay healthy. Game on.

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