In comments on an earlier post, Zak Smith said:
OSR gamers know design CAN matter and CAN lead to better design. (Otherwise they would not have all these different rulesets, they would just keep using one).
Also: some of the Story-Games comments on this post imply some disjunction between “rulings not rules” and wanting good design.
This is wrong.
He’s right — adopting a RnR position for your game is an act of design. And you can do that knowingly, because you expect particular benefits.
Let me retreat to weaker position:
The OSR is clear that that (1) is indeed the norm – the assumption is that every OSR GM is hacking a lot. And not just minor details – lots of people are radically changing core classes, skill systems, initiative order (see the comments on Troika’s here in Patrick Stuart’s comparions of British OSR games), …
We can split up my intent with (4) to get:
4a — A good game scene produces dozens or hundreds of small composable game chunks – e.g. classes, abilities, spells, monsters, all ready for GMs to put quickly into their games, even though said games aren’t all using a common rule base.
4b — In this scene, the norm is that changes and new material, especially those, are presented in a form that’s easy for others to make concise new documents with.
The OSR is strong at (4a), partly because RnR tells the GM that they need to be actively maintaining key game properties, live, all the time. Many things (in particular verisimiltude, as in your example, and handling time) are thus the clearly responsibility of the GM. GMs thus know that they can’t rely on their source documents (especially when they’re making a collage from two games and five blogs) to guide play in those respects.
The OSR is weaker at (4b), because printed books and PDFs are still the primary form of game artefacts. There are some nice things to fork-and-edit (e.g. the ACKS SRD in Markdown in a Git repository), but they’re the exception, not the rule (and I don’t know if there is much activity around that ACKS version – there seem to be no active forks).
The “weakest at 4b” has two effects I can see:
* Composing rules to make “my version” is messy – copy-pasting, thinking about formatting.
* When I do compose-and-change, it’s not obvious how to feed changes back in a form that others can use.
I suspect that it also reduces the number of minor tweaks and fixes that are published in an accessible form – things too small for a blog post, that might make it into a forum comment, but most likely will just hang around in someone’s house rules.
The OSR is also weak at (not listed), in that its heavily focussed on OD&D and close derivatives. Although I have enjoyed D&D, and my current game is on a LotFP base, I don’t have very much affection for the D&D rules, nor that many of the prominent play assumptions. I am looking for something different.