Saturday, October 8, 2022

The Jeff to Patrick OSR Continuum

  • OSR stands for "Old School Renaissance"--a resurgence in interest in pre-90s RPGs that began around the time blogging became a thing online and influences products to this day by people who want to do something new and creative with RPGs but don't think D&D makes people into Nazis or want to hang out with people who do. A small community, perhaps, but one still capable of running a Kickstarter
  • While some products or creators or commenters that might be considered "OSR" existed before this, the most important person in the early OSR was Jeff Rients of the venerable Jeff's Gameblog. It goes all the way back to 2004. If you read it, you can see OSR ideas clarify themselves one by one in real time.
  • I--much influenced by Jeff--showed up gameblogging years later, in 2009.
  • Patrick Stuart--of the False Machine blog and Veins of the Earth etc.--showed up after me, saying explicitly that he was--in turn--much influenced by me, especially by Vornheim.
  • Since they were both really influential OSR creators with lots of ideas (and ones I liked and got along with), it always seemed odd to me that the two of them didn't talk much.

I have two points to make here:

1. I think of all OSR game products as existing on a continuum from Jeff-ish to Patrick-y.

2. By what is honestly coincidence, it could be fairly claimed that Jeff Rients created the OSR community and Patrick Stuart destroyed it.

The Continuum

The Jeff Rients' End

Jeff is an incredibly experienced DM (example) whose style reflects having run games for strangers and friends at home, in game stores, and at conventions for longer than many of us have been alive.

His blog, GM style, and game products reflect that experience: how to make sure people have fun.

On the other hand, his game products are few in number and relatively modest. His major thing out is Broodmother Sky Fortress, which is half awesome-adventure-with-tips-for-first-time-GMs and half best-of-Jeff's-Gameblog. The adventure's great but it's pretty short and compact.

Though both I and other people have spent lots of time asking Jeff to put out more product he hasn't--and he once told me his very Jeff reason for this: most of the dungeons he runs are composed a lot of old dungeons mashed together. It's the way he runs them that makes them work.

Jeff has lots of really good ideas for weird things to put in a game, but that's not the center of his aesthetic. The center is: make sure it's playable and fun.

I think a good example of the Jeff Rients aesthetic is the random hireling table in Broodmother Skyfortress: it's a d6 table.

Obviously, if this was a Zak table it would have 100 entries and if it only had 20 then I'd make some excuse like I was trying to fit it on the page with 9 other tables. And every entry would tell you like 4 things minimum about the hireling.

...but I also know what Jeff would say when you ask why it only has 6 entries (including pack-apes, which is cool): Jeff has run dungeons over and over and over and over and over and has found that 6 is enough--after that you get diminishing returns.

So that's Jeff's thing: doing a lot with a little to make sure you have fun.

The Patrick Stuart End

Patrick was not only capable of writing magnificent sentences, he really liked to show you that he was. When I created Maze of the Blue Medusa and wanted to save some time by not writing it all myself, I asked him to collaborate. He's good and has lots of esoteric ideas and the things he writes are brimming with exciting concepts.

On the other hand: 

He never rolls.

Last I knew: he lived alone in the middle of nowhere, UK, he's painfully isolated, his best friend is someone he's never met in real life, he's never had--as an adult--a regular RPG group he met with and doesn't even run his own stuff.

He once told me his favorite-ever session of D&D was one he played online. That's fucked up--and it shows in his work.

Patrick Stuart has not a clue how to make a functional game without help from a collaborator.

So that's Patrick's thing: Doing a whole lot with a lot but without a lot of clear ideas about how to make it fun.

Creating on the Continuum

Unsurprisingly, considering the timeline, I've generally tried to make things that are in the middle, or which have the strengths of both:

Esoteric and well-written enough to be interesting and new, but concise and considered enough to be playable. Whether I've succeeded isn't really the point--that's not up to me--it's just often a real thought I have in my head: "This needs more out-the-box playability--this needs a little more inspiring verbiage". 

That idea's in my head.

And It's Weird Because...

...the OSR kinda did begin and then end with these two guys.

Jeff showed up, wrote about playable things, handled shit right, and--to the degree he took responsibility for people or talked about other peoples' business--had a moral compass.

Patrick started out that way, but was fucking terrible at it because he had no real-life experience with real people. Around 2017 or 18 he started lashing out at basic 101-level rules of healthy human interaction like "Talk to people before assuming crazy shit about them" and "Don't lie".

Unfortunately a lot of creators followed his lead--the people he influenced took Patricks repudiation of things like facts and evidence as a cue that standards for how to treat each other were now lower--and they ran with it.

And now the OSR is not really a thing--creators and moneymaking entities are still here but the community is gone, because in a world run by Patrick rules, nobody is ever accountable for their actions and interacting with other creators is fucking dangerous.

The OSR reddit would, for example, rather just take down a critical post than figure out how to constructively criticize a game...

...considering one of the only things the OSR was ever good for was constructively criticizing games, this is pretty fucked up.

I hate it all and I want to die very badly.






Bast said...

Hi Zak, were your last two sentences of this blogpost hyperbole? Due to my own raw emotional state lately, I found those statements alarming. If I'm totally off on the tone, please forgive my concern trolling (am I even using the term concern trolling correctly? I just learned about it recently?)

Simon Tsevelev said...

Again, while reading about those people, I catch myself thinking "I can relate to this very much, and I'm now horrified of ending up like this". Patrick, in this case. Not Jeff.
Don't die, man.

Vasteel said...

I tried reaching you on Discord a couple days ago about something but my message bounced. Anyway I'm worried about you. Here if you wanna talk

shanepatrickward said...

Hi Zak, I apologize for pointing out that thread in the first place. It is very sad. I agree it is not a community anymore, and I don't think it has been for awhile. Ive basically stopped creating other than for personal use because I'm in a vacuum.

Don't die, don't say bye. Keep on going!

Adamantyr said...

Dude, worried about you. This is not the hill to die on. Please confirm you're still with us!

Jeff Rients said...

FYI I spoke with Zak a few hours ago.

Zak Sabbath said...


Not hyperbole.



Zak Sabbath said...

I did talk to Jeff, I am not dead.

I am not, however, optimistic.

If anyone's concern here is genuine, the thing to do is get in touch: zakzsmith AT hawtmayle dawt calm

Fred Rourk said...

Justen Brown's The Big Brown Book says it is from 2012. Terratic Tome says it is from 2013. Philotomy's Musings says it is from 2007. In particularly on pg 12 of Philotomy's Musing there is a chapter called - CREATING AN "OLD-SCHOOL" DUNGEON. A lot of the tennets of OSR are laid out in this chapter and subsequent chapters.

Hope you roll some dice. It's GAME SEASON!

Stokely said...

Love you Zak - love stokes

EoD said...

Posts like this are one of the many reasons why your blog is one of the rare ones that I still read. It never was clear to my why the "years before" were so awesome and today sucks so bad I don't even partake anymore... Unbelievable when you put it in perspective like you did, makes a whole lot of sense.

Truth be told, I dislike Patrick's writing. I like Veins because it is a LotFP book and cause Scrap's art looks great in the context of the book, but the style of writing is so bloated and painfully try-hard nonstop that it makes it a boring read. And he writes like that all the time in all his work (and even his own blog posts) which makes it sound like he is not the most mentally articulate person... which also partially explains why he got along with the hate mob.

Becami Cusack said...

I agree with this to a certain point - but I do think his heavy and enamorated and dense and complex writing is wonderful, here's the catch.

That writing absolutely has to be tempered with actual game design principles in order to create anything functional - and this is exemplified, for me, by the clear evidence of the work itself.
MotBM, DCO, and VotE are all involving other people who reigned in or helped make sure this untested material had a chance of being usable - MotBM was tested before release I believe (Zak could confirm I guess)

So a lot of the issues I have seen stemming from Fire on the Velvet Horizon, Silent Titans, Mork Borg, and Demon Bone Sarcophagus - plus his blogposts - is this serious style over substance focus, and constantly posing game design as an art that can flourish without people pushing and testing it.

Zak Sabbath said...


Sorry, no anonymous comments allowed.