Dungeons. Dragons. Graph paper. Funny dice.

Originality and the OSR

A flurry of recent posts complain about originality, or the lack thereof, in the OSR. I experienced mild anger reading those, and have now thought it through enough to articulate some of the reasons for that anger. I’m not trying to pick a fight with anyone; this is just a bit of catharsis.

  1. For me, the appeal of the OSR is substantially about exploring the roots of a hobby I enjoy. There’s room within that goal for originality in the form of creative revisionism or imagining alternate histories of the hobby, but my enjoyment is not dependent upon those things.
  2. Copyright issues push my buttons. To say that retro-clones are stealing intellectual property by exploiting a loophole in the OGL shows a poor understanding of both the license and the concept of copyright as a public good. I find it in poor taste to blames dismal sales of a new fantasy game on thieving retro-clone authors. What does such a stance really mean—that classic D&D should go out of print, forcing everyone to play new games that otherwise can’t compete with it? As much as many people are enured to its charms, D&D is a well designed game, and something new will not necessarily be better. Novelty is not in itself meritorious.
  3. That the OSR is adding to the existing mountain of adventure modules that involve going into a dungeon to kill humanoids does not prey upon my mind. Nor does it bother me that people charge money for such things. Even in a relatively small market like the OSR, the internet effectively separates the wheat from the chaff. Coming from content producers, this amounts to the charge that bad products are killing sales of good products. That’s not how markets work. While innovation spurs further innovation, there’s no reason to believe that sameness leads to more sameness. The non-innovators copy the innovators, not the other way around.
  4. In these complaints, I also detect a resentment of amateurism (amaeteurism in the best, Lovecraftian sense). How to compete with free is a problem that has occupied many industries in recent years, including the software industry and journalism. Cheap and free desktop publishing software will not go away. There are ways to compete with free, but smearing amateurs is not one of them. No one owes you a living.
  5. Finally, my anger was about being forced to recognize my dissatisfaction with my private campaign, which is really the heart of the matter, and something I’ll post about tomorrow.

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