Saturday, January 5, 2019


Another wave of blathering was stirred up on G+ a few weeks ago (and another? and another? and another???) regarding the OSR and what it's all about. Here is a story that illustrates a few things I've learned about OSRism that I find really important.

So. I've been playing on and off in a 2nd edition game for about two years, with a few old friends (two of my Land's End players) and some of *their* friends. It's always the same guy DMing - we will call him "D." He and I are the only players with significant experience (he a lifer like I am). Two players are rank beginners and the ones who play in my Land's End game have no experience other than that.

Our party ranges from levels 8-12. My character is an 8th-level psionicist (I'll cover this in a future post) so sometimes I'm almost completely useless. We're playing some high-level adventures. Many of them are D's own concoction, with some published material. Of late we're playing through Temple, Tower & Tomb, a series of three pretty tough dungeons.

Things finally reached a pass last weekend, and I know I said IN MY LAST POST I wasn't going to blog while angry, but fuck it. I thought if I waited a week I'd have a more objective look back at what happened, but today I write this missive to you still feeling slapped in the face and I gotta get this out of my system.

I missed one of the sessions in the Temple, but it was cool except for one incident that set my spidey-sense tingling: while sifting through a huge pit of bones for magic items, we uncovered an odd NPC: a sentient flying skull. Turns out some dude was killed by the evil clerics of the temple and just woke up that way. Fine, I can work with this, but...

My suspicions began to grow when the floating skull, named Ollie, did not say "Thanks for rescuing me, goodbye!" but followed us around the dungeon making comments. Flying into rooms to grab treasures. Even offering suggestions on dealing with the various traps in the temple.

You guessed it. The dreaded "DMPC" had reared its ugly head. I thought I had left those behind when I graduated high school. But it gets worse:

The Tower

The delve last weekend really irritated the shit out of me. We were grinding through this dungeon slowly, and I was doing my best to keep my mouth shut. The kind of place where checking for traps and casting Detect Magic on every single door is mandatory, but the walls are made of wood. I honestly considered setting the whole place on fire and sifting through the ruins in a few days later for the stupid MacGuffin we needed.

I was basically going along to get along, letting the newer dudes set the pace. Previous game sessions had already given me deep suspicions that we were playing on "easy mode." I wondered what the fuck would be necessary for the party to fail for once.

Finally we reached the lich's hidden throne room.

The fight began in a normal enough way. Lich with Stoneskin dropped Unholy Word and Reverse Gravity, got whaled on by our fighters and went down. The magical punishments continued from an unknown source, and one of the prisoners in his sanctum was revealed as a fire elemental covered by an illusion. Makes sense so far. We began attacking the other "innocent prisoners," assuming one was the lich in disguise.

I should point out that all these irritating things so far were in the module, AFAIK. D can be blamed only for deciding to run it. But what happened next really ripped my dick off:

My psionicist was standing back, shooting arrows since I was all out of PSPs, when Ollie the fucking floating skull appeared seemingly out of nowhere (another immersion-breaking device that will probably cause me $2000 in dental reconstruction just for thinking about it). He said "The Emerald. The Emerald!"

Of course. There was a large green gem sitting on a throne in the middle of the room. Why wouldn't the lich leave his fucking phylactery out in the open? Makes perfect sense right? The DM was telling me how to defeat the boss, so my character dutifully smashed it and with a puff of smoke the lich was destroyed. My eyes rolled so far back in my skull, I'm currently typing this while hanging from the fucking ceiling.

What I'm Trying To Say

"The ultimate object of education can scarcely be knowledge anymore: it is, rather, the will born of such knowledge."  - Max Stirner

Some folks have complained about the OSR approach. The latest is from Chimeric Reservations in particular. For example, here are the Artpunk D&D "commandments" which I also subscribe to. (note the fucking quotation marks okay?)

Reading about Jacquaying the Dungeon, the Quantum Ogre, the Dirt-Cheap Sandbox or 1000 other awesome, educational, informative and fun-as-hell blog posts in the OSR world is worthwhile not just for ideas and rules but because taken together they inculcate a certain perspective. A perspective that includes freedom, choice and consequence for the players and fairness from the DM. Things that I found frustratingly lacking in last weekend's game. It doesn't matter if you're an OG from '74 or you play Pathfinder like I do. Absorbing these ideas will raise your consciousness. You'll understand why a "gimme" like this is in fact robbing your players of the fun they otherwise could've had.

"You are privy to a great becoming..." 

I don't know if anyone thinks or claims that OSR-ing is a fully general solution to every problem in roleplaying games. This session exemplifies just one frustrating and totally avoidable ending to a session that OSR-style thinking would have prevented. You can accuse me of "one-true-wayism" all you want, but I would never in a million years have pulled that fucking move with my players. What I'm saying is that at least in my case THE OSR IMPROVED MY GAMES, SAVED MY SOUL AND KICKS ASS. It has real effects on people, and a little reading on D's part might have saved me from this lingering taste of piss in my mouth.

Why even bother playing if we already know what's going to happen? I'm trying to think and solve problems and play my character to the hilt and survive. Too bad it's all a bunch of wasted effort. Why keep track of anything? Why roll the dice?

What To Do Next?

A great number of pursuits compete for my time. Too many to list. Why spend any of my limited hours getting this pissed off? At the very least I'll be contacting D in private to discuss my misgivings, although I strongly doubt it will make a difference. I believe he is just pandering to the newbies, and since there are four of them and one of me, the best option may be to quietly reduce my attendance. I mean, they keep coming back - who am I to tell them how to have fun?


  1. I have a classmate who was complaining about her first few times roleplaying ... with a DM who railroaded the party through a dungeon where all they got to do was listen to longwinded descriptions of things, until the final combat when they were forced to fight a "boss" no one wanted to fight. And got no treasure. And then did pretty much the same thing "guarding a caravan" for six. freaking. hours.

    I encouraged her not to quit D&D, just to quit that DM, and sent her some links to some creative 5e play reports. She wants to give it another go, but for sure, what she's interested is NOT getting railroaded through some frustrated-novelist DM's idea of "a good storyline."

    1. An all-too-familiar story! I hope your friend sticks it out. Not going to invite her to your own game?

  2. Mmm. Just found your blog and am reading through the archives. This sounds like it was, um, 'rough.' But the surprising bit is that it was happening in 2019.

    Is it a 2E state of mind?

    To be clear: not trying to edition bash. This kind of thing *was* prevalent 30 years ago in the 2E era. But it's also part of "modern" (i.e. post-WotC) D&D. I just thought there was enough knowledge floating around out there that folks playing "old edition" D&D wouldn't still be doing this kind of thing.

    I'm just surprised, I guess...maybe because I've been assured (many times!) by current 2E players that this kind of thing doesn't happen at their tables. That railroads and obnoxious GMCs and handholding and dice fudging is only to be found in those "other" editions.

    Probably it's just table dependent. Is this campaign still on-going? Has the game improved in the ways you wanted?

    1. Hey JB, welcome to the blog my man. Don't read too far back, the early stuff isn't too good!

      I don't think that 2e was to blame specifically... this guy had been DMing for years, this is just what he was used to. But I think it goes to show that edition-warring is not as simple as we sometimes make it out to be.

      As many folks have observed, the OSR is a selective reading of the old books. I am sure you have looked at old Dragon mags and seen people offering up all kinds of railroad adventures, lame monsters, or spell points systems, or tables of what grasses groe in northwestern Cormyr... or whatever else.

      Our advantage today is we have years of people going back and looking at the old stuff, breaking it apart to show *why* it worked so well when it did. I think many of us younger guys who didn't grow into bad habits (or saw them early enough) are in a better position to take the right path.

      That campaign petered out soon after that for various reasons, but that's all right, I am busy as hell running games these days.

    2. Right on…best of luck going forward with your gaming.
      ; )