Wednesday, November 4, 2020

The RPG Caste System is Back

 The OSR really got going back when Jeff of Jeff's Gameblog decided that the old forums sucked too much and started his own blog. People found the blogs, shared common interests, things started to spark and the rest is a terrible fever-dream.

Trying to keep taste out of it as much as possible, I always said the simplest way to prove the old forums sucked was: the RPG pros, whose work everyone was always arguing about, and who literally had answers and inside information on maybe 30-60% of the things everyone were talking about weren't there. A conversation without the people who made what you are discussing? That's a worse conversation.

Full-time creators (at the time the obvious ones would be Monte Cook, Mike Mearls, Robin Laws, but even Fred Hicks saw RPGnet moderation as shitty) saw no percentage in being anywhere near these hellscapes. Professionalization separated them from the fans.

Things were different in the OSR. I liked that in the places where the OSR and DIY D&D people congregated, the creators were there--this was a sign the community was working--that it was creating something more than the sum of its parts. You could ask the Sine Nomine guy about his sales figures and he would tell you, you could ask Jacob Hurst why Hot Springs Island was a certain way and he would tell you. This was good for everyone involved. And in insular conversations where fans were batting around half-baked theories, the actual creator could show up and go "Wait, no" --and vice versa, fans could challenge creators.

Simply: That's over now.

The OSR has now replicated the problem that it fixed: there is a professional caste (Jacob Hurst, Sine Nomine, Patrick, Scrap, Raggi, the Mork Borg guys, James Grognardia, even someone like David Noisms at Monsters and Manuals, etc.) and they are, for the most part, not really in conversation with anyone else.

There's no place where they all talk and the blogs have fewer comments and much less cross-blog talk. Even a popular post on a popular blog like Grognardia gets much less back-and-forth in the comments.

People are still writing good content maybe, but it's not part of a conversation with other creators that improves it. There's blog and fan stuff, which might be good but nobody talks about or much shares and then there's Major Releases which are influential and cost money and which everyone feels like they need to have an opinion on and they're made by creators who won't talk to you because they are afraid of saying anything to piss off fans. A lot of them will explicitly say this--and it's exactly what people like Monte and Mearls were saying years ago.

This can go on for years--this is roughly where the entire indie scene outside the OSR was during the loudest days of the OSR: a bunch of semiprofessional fan-creators talking about the work of (kinda) full-time creators who didn't talk back.

Personally I don't think that worked out well. Everybody was either one of a handful of (mostly white, straight, cis) underground rockstars or part of a chattering class that got ignored. Ideas circulated less, change, when it did happen, only occurred when a rockstar property took a heave forward and the rest just got 2 likes and was forgotten.

The larger conversation about games has slid back two decades to basically exactly where it was before there was an OSR. Yeah, production values for old school products went up and some people got the message that you put the name of what's on the map on the room on the map, but there's a Republican with a famous name in a lawyer-damaged squeaker election with a colorless former VP and people are back to talking about D&D as being about "mass murder" and "the games are about what the rules are about" and whether games cause mass shootings. I expect something about how Ok, fam, Vampire really does cause brain damage any day now. 

Oh look, it's the year 2000


Fredrick J. Rourk said...

You forgot Conventions. Not very hard to do as there have not been any thanks to Covid. Oh there are online conventions but it is not the same.

Conventions traditionally had been a great place to try different games out without forking over a lot of cash and ending up with a library of books.

Hope all is well.

Remember OSR is not only D&D.

I must teach you how to play Era Ten sometime with a double Tarot Deck.

Zak Sabbath said...


I didn’t forget conventions they just have nothing to do with what I was talking about.

conventions let people with a certain amount of money and nothing better to do talk to each other maybe once a year—They don’t really have anything to do with the ongoing public conversation about game design or GMing or anything like that

Nick said...

It's been depressing to watch- as an outsider that was attracted to this wonderful, challenging and effective community that was the OSR- the whole thing disintegrate amidst a rattling cavalcade of rather dangerous witch trials.

That said, 'as above, so below'. I think it's safe to remark, that the OSR was not insulated from the general degradation of the state of dialogue in 'Western' society and culture as a whole. Fear rules... those of us on the far left (that's not really an accurate term these days, I know), have had to watch as freedom of thought has become a right wing pillar, and state violence become recognised as a necessary evil by our former peers.

I'm probably being rash in my collation, but chronologically, it's been my experience and yes, I have been low key appalled.

Anyway, thanks for the Cube World stuff, I'm going to put that ridiculously huge encounter tables through it's paces on Saturday night.

Zak Sabbath said...


Let me know how the encounter table works out!

Zak Sabbath said...


Misinformation isn't allowed in the comments. If you believe this call was made in error, give proof your alleged lie was true in the next comment.

Zak Sabbath said...


Your erased post attributes motive--and a motive other than the stated one.

RasheedKnox said...

Interesting insight. I think small groups of like-minded professionals is best. People who go by the same code...

Nick said...

Just for the record, my prick players are still hiding in town... update soon.

Zak Sabbath said...

smh at these "adventurers"

Steven A. Torres-Roman said...

Two things come to mind from reading this post.

1. Much of the productive conversation in the OSR was due to fans going, "I don't necessarily like what's being published - I think I can do better." The fans became professionals and defined their work against the established professionals.

2. A (big?) part of what made the OSR conversation so fruitful and vital was that there was (by default? not sure how this came about other than serendipity) a common space - G+ - where all these fans-turned-designers gathered to talk about their stuff. I grant that I may be misremembering, but it seems to me that the RPG conversation for established games and game companies was a hugely wide-ranging diaspora across a host of fan-created and company-owned forums, the G+ had a very concentrated OSR contingent. When Google shut down G+, the OSR had its own diaspora - "Should we go to MeWe? Facebook? Where do we go? Let's try multiple places! Crap - now I have to keep track of too many places - this isn't working."

Which leads to me idly wondering if The Forge was productive (in terms of getting people to make their own games, whether or not I liked them) because it was a central gathering place at that time for those game fans and designers.

Another slight tangent, I have seen very few other instances where the forums are productive in the manner you discuss - fans and professionals interacting regularly - but one of those is the Savage Worlds / PEG Inc. forum, where the conversation is productive, useful, and has a minimum of nonsense and noise.