Wednesday, January 16, 2013

What OSR is/isn't and why you should/shouldn't care

I was planning on finishing my post on Ars Magica today, but I've been really sick over the past few days which means I've been sleeping a lot. One of the consequences of sleeping when ill is that I usually have weird dreams, some of which could best be called nightmarish. So of course a few days ago Zak S. posted something about this thread on and I read it. The thread, as well as the post (which looks to have been recently deleted). First of all, reading web forums annoys the hell out of me. Moderated ones, anyway. I started with Usenet ( and that should tell you enough about my views on moderation. Anyway, that thread on was the subject of several horrible dreams I experienced dealing with OSR and all that sort of crap. Like my previous post stated, people are just missing the point.

I hate the term OSR because of the implication that new games have nothing to offer, but that's the term we have so we're stuck with it. It's sort of like the United States we have football and soccer. I realize the rest of the world calls soccer "football", and football "American football" or "gridiron" or some other bullshit, but it's called "football" here. If you don't like it, that's fine, but if you're in the US and call soccer "football" people are going to look at you like you're an asshole. OSR is the designation given to a set of games that exhibit a certain set of criteria, and just because the name is stupid doesn't mean the designation is meaningless. I think Zak tried to make that point in the thread and was met with epic-level actuality, which is a term used to describe humorless nerds hellbent on sticking to the first definition of a word in the dictionary, ignoring the other fifty uses as they see fit. Fuck those guys, OSR is the word we're using. Now I have to give the criteria, right?

OSR isn't AD&D. Someone literally tried to say it was in that fucking thread. In fact, AD&D itself is anti-OSR in the sense that the term is used. AD&D was published in an effort to codify all the various house rules and endless variants introduced the few years after D&D was published, to create a definitive version of the rules. That's not OSR. OSR also has nothing to do with the age of a game. It's entirely possible to create a clone of Vampire or Amber or Rifts or even D&D 4th edition and have it be an OSR game. Why not? Old-school gaming is not about a particular set of rules. To think it has anything to do with which rules-set you're using misses the whole point. I played in an "AD&D" game when I was in high school that used stuff from Rolemaster, Palladium Fantasy and Warhammer. The DM would allow just about anything, but no I made a multiclassed dwarf fighter/mind mage. The combat system was AD&D but with criticals hits from Rolemaster. Blah blah blah, this is nothing new, everyone does this, right?

No, they don't. THAT is the point of the OSR. I do not like 4th edition D&D, so what. Plenty of people do, whatever. Reading various boards, you'd think that if it's not in the rules, it can't be done. 4th edition players, in general, seem to be of the mindset that the rules define everything and the players and DM are strictly confined to the rules. Oh, did I say 4th edition players? Try reading Dragonsfoot. Everything is "How does this work by-the-book". Fine, doesn't bother me, but don't EVER bring up something cool that happened in the game if it's not in the fucking rulebook. Your DM had this badass adventure with stuff that's not strictly BtB? Get ready for the arguments and pedantic nonsense. AD&D players aren't any more part of the OSR than the guys on the WotC boards because they're both more interested in rules, not play.

Old-school is doing whatever you want, whenever you want, because it's fun. It's adhering to the idea that "the play's the thing", not the rules. This might come to a shock to most people, but rpgs attempt to simulate a fantasy (or scifi, whatever) reality. What does the boardgame Sorry simulate? Not a fucking thing. I mean, maybe it's a social commentary on the futility of relying on luck to achieve success in the financial realm. Hell if I know. I used to play it a lot when I was a kid because it was fun but I never worried about what my game pieces were eating or if they enjoyed their task. They were just game pieces. Wondering these things about rpg characters isn't necessary for play, but might be legitimate questions at some point. Using old-school mentality, if I wanted to know how my Sorry game pieces felt about their lives, I might create a chart and roll on it when necessary, perhaps throw in some modifiers based on current progress. Someone else might require an extensive roleplaying session, lots of psychoanalysis. The chart way is definitely older, and the roleplaying way is arguably newer, but they're still old-school in the sense that those rules didn't exist and someone just made them up because they figured it'd be fun and add a new dimension to the game. OSR Sorry might have a million new rules, with a ton of stuff, but it'd still be identifiable as Sorry. If group A decided to dump the roleplaying and use the charts, no one would say a fucking word. "You're not playing it right"? The only way to not play it right would be to not play at all.

To reiterate, OSR is not about a particular set of rules or a timeframe, or even a certain style of play. It's simply about doing whatever you want to have fun, not sticking to a particular mindset and keeping the holy words of the game designer as canon. You can certainly play 4th edition D&D in an OSR way, if you want. Or you can play it as-written. Which is better? I thought about this question for a while, and finally decided the OSR is better, objectively, simply because it's inclusive. There's no prohibition against keeping to the rules, strictly, in the old-school mentality. In fact, there is a large segment of old-school play that is very much concerned with the rules. But it's still "your" game. If you ad lib a bit to cover a situation unclear in the rules, you're doing it old-school. If you send letters to the editor asking for clarifications, you're an old wargamer still unaware that rpgs are a new form of gaming. If you insist that something cannot be done simply because it's not in the rules, you're a "nugamer", and pretty much an annoying fuck. The whole DIY ethic is very much a part of the OSR, and in fact one of the major contributions the OSR has given the rpg community is a reminder that this whole thing started in someone's garage. All the major rpg publishers started in garages, publishing crap independently because no one else would.

You shouldn't care about the OSR, because caring would, paradoxically, violate the precepts of the OSR itself. Do whatever you want and don't give one fuck about anyone else.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

DRM is stupid

Read this and started thinking...

DRM is just a pain in the ass. It really is. Pirates can strip DRM out of a PDF in mere seconds; it's really nothing more than a slight impediment to them. But DRM provides legit PDF readers even more hoops to jump through than is necessary. I've experienced issues with DRM-protcted PDFs I purchased and it pissed me off. Basically, I was being punished for buying something. For instance, I have a ton of PDFs on my iPad now; one of the PDFs I tried to copy over had some weird DRM scheme that made it impossible to view. Punish me for being legit, I appreciate it. If you're a publisher and you think DRM protects your content, you're essentially a fucking idiot. To reiterate, anyone who wants to steal your work is going to steal it and anyone who is going to pay you will pay.

I know I talked about this in a post a while back, but when Eclipse Phase was first published, the company released a free PDF using a sort of shareware model: pay if you like it. I read the PDF and ended up buying the book. If I hadn't liked the PDF, I would not have paid a dime for it, but I also probably wouldn't have deleted it, either. Is that stealing? Publishers would say yes, of course it is. I'd tend to say no, simply because at some point I might look at the PDF again, decide I changed my mind about it, and send them money. When Doom was first released, you could play the first couple levels for free, it cost money to play more. Even with rampant piracy Doom became one of the most popular, financially successful games ever. Did plenty of people steal Doom? Yep. And 90% of those people probably couldn't afford to pay for it even if they had wished. That's the reality of the situation: most people do not have infinite disposable income. Something has to be really good for them to pay for it, and even then they might never pay for it.

Electronic goods have the one advantage of being distributable forever, without any additional cost. Suppose you want to write a book and sell it in PDF form. If it's an rpg, you're most likely going to sell a few thousand copies. At most. But you can sell those for 10 years, and the cost to do so is negligible. It doesn't cost anything to keep it "in print", you're not getting tied up with publishers and distributors, etc. Out of pocket expenses are however much time and effort it took to produce the book. If you're using Kickstarter, like a lot of people are doing now, those costs are paid upfront. So why fuck with DRM? You're just limiting your audience. If I can't give my buddy a copy of the PDF so he can take a look at it without buying it, you've effectively lost a potential sale. I've already paid you the $10 and my buddy would NEVER pay the $10 because he doesn't care. But hey, maybe I told him the game is cool and to take a look anyway. I email him a copy, he decides it sucks, whatever, you gain nothing...but don't lose anything, either. It's possible he does like it and doesn't pay for it anyway. So what? Maybe whenever you have a new idea he's the first in line to fund the Kickstarter or pre-order. DRM will just limit the audience by making it impossible to freely loan out works like you can with physical books. The idea that keeping a copy of the PDF without paying for it is stealing is essentially claiming that shitty ideas have value to everyone.

I'm not advocating people stealing PDFs and ideas, but trying to equate a physical copy of a book with a PDF is asinine. If I buy a book and it sucks balls, at least I can recover some of my money on the used book market. What recourse is there with a PDF? Good luck trying to get a refund on a PDF...the implicit argument is that, since it's electronic, there is no way to know if I'm going to delete it or not. So basically, Mr. Customer, fuck you. Even with DRM stuff. When BRP was released in PDF I accidentally bought two copies. I asked for a refund of one of those copies. Chaosium pretty much ignored around four inquires before I got pissed and called American Express to have them credit my card. Needless to say, I haven't bought another PDF from Chaosium since. Why should I? If I had accidentally ordered two physical books, I could have sold one of them on ebay, or sent it back for a refund. Why was the PDF so problematic?

Drivethrurpg puts an order number and name on the bottom of every PDF you buy. A watermark. It's the most irritating fucking thing I have experienced. I don't want to see that crap, especially not when I print it out. Why put that on there? What purpose does it serve besides pissing me off? I've edited every PDF I ever bought from drivethru and removed that shit. Uh oh, look at me! I'm violating DRM! Yeah well don't put it on there in the first place. There have been several times I did not buy a PDF off the website simply because I knew I'd have to deal with that watermark nonsense. Lost a sale.

This is mostly rambling nonsense, but I don't feel like editing it, so I won't. Fuck PDFs and fuck DRM.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Missing the point

Always missing the point:

How is "fire and forget" remotely believable when I can slot and ready more than one "copy" of a spell?
So, you can buy into fireball spells, dragons, levels, hit points, and a ton of other game-related concepts, but Vancian Magic is where you draw the line? Seriously? The question isn't, "I think Vancian Magic sucks, how can I fix it?" Plenty of people thought the same thing when D&D was initially released. Have you ever seen another RPG before? No, the question is requesting an explanation as to why anyone could ever accept Vancian Magic as believable because it's possible to memorize more than one fireball spell at a time.


When I read all those Dying Earth stories, a couple years ago, long after playing rpgs for eons, it finally clicked in my head as to why D&D handles spells in the manner in which it does. Okay, that's cool and I like it and whatever because I've moved from merely playing games to trying to understand their raison d'ĂȘtre. But D&D is a game and that's how shit worked in the game, and fuck you if it doesn't make any sense, you're just an idiot. It's perfectly valid to say you don't like it, to change it, play something else, however you want to approach the issue. But the notion that it's unbelievable? What. It's a fucking GAME. Further, it's based on stories that pretty much handle spells the same exact way. Go ahead and tell Jack Vance his spell-casting system doesn't make any sense. You're allowed. I'm sure  he'd enjoy spending his last days alive trying to justify a system of magic in his stories within the context of your capacity of comprehension.

"Hit points aren't a remotely believable representation of wounds." So what? Are you sure about that, anyway? Ask any medical doctor to explain how bullets affect the human body and if he gives an answer other than "getting shot is bad" he's a fucking hack. No one knows. We have no idea how wounds operate in real life, so how the hell would we know about how magic works in a hypothetical D&D world?


I have no problem with people who want to create logical reasons for why things are done a certain way in games. It's sort of like being interested in how warp power works in Star Trek; just a nerdy pursuit that helps you enjoy the show more. But at a point the Star Trek nerd is either going to swallow pseudoscience and accept it so he can watch the show and have fun, or bitch about it ad nauseum and be a pedantic fuck. If you think I'm being hypocritical given my recent review of that dreadful Hobbit movie, my gripe was how much it deviated from the story, not about how hobbits shouldn't even exist or elves couldn't possibly be resistant to diseases for thousands of years because eventually a super virus would mutate an affect them. D&D magic works how it works because that's how it works. Requesting information on how it works is fine, but stating it defies belief? Show me how you cast spells in real life and if that D&D doesn't match up then you're right, it's unbelievable. Just go fuck yourself, please.