Mar 2, 2011

OSR Manifesto

Imagine it is summer of 1971. You and your friends enjoy playing wargames with lead miniatures, pencil, paper, and dice. You get this idea to add fantasy elements: elves, orcs, dragons to the game. Then you realize how cool it would be if each player just played one character instead of an army.

Next thing you know you've invented the world's first roleplaying game.

You quickly put together a rule set and get your friends to playtest the heck out of it. Play session after play session you refine and add to the rules while you map out an ominous mega-dungeon. BUT! You know the idea is hot and rush to market. You put together all your playtest notes into a rough manuscript and try to get it published. No one is interested, so you scrape the money together and publish it yourself!

People love the game and next thing you know you are selling copies of the game like crazy! Your company grows from you and a few family members and friends in a basement, to an office to much more!

How do you manage the growth of this phenomenally successful and crazy cool idea?

All right, let's return from fantasy land and come back to reality.

Presently you have the opportunity to add to this quirky and wonderful game. The OSR is an opportunity to re-invision how the original fantasy RPG, and it's children could be. And you can participate with your own designs. ePublishing has made it so easy.

On the excellent Maximum Rock and Roleplay blog, Chad Thorson has given the OSR community a brilliant "OSR" logo.

Here is the logo cleaned up in high resolution format. As a community perhaps we could establish a manifesto that adjudicates the use of this logo. You may freely use the OSR logo on your product given the following criteria:

  1. The product is compatible with the original white box (or wood-grain box) edition of the worlds first and most famous fantasy RPG.
  2. That's it.

I would go so far as to say Blue Box through 1st edition are in most ways an extension, and generally compatible with the original edition. Even 2nd and 3rd edition at least payed homage to the original. So the definition is fairly flexible.

As long as you hold to this criteria you can use this logo on your OSR product. What do you think?


  1. This is totally unrelated to the idea of a manifesto, but with the black box in the O, I keep thinking there should be a statue or spiral staircase symbol in there.

    Maybe that's just me.

  2. No, that black box in the O is clearly a pit trap!

  3. Unfortunately, I think the OSR has collapsed under its own weight. Too many of the movers and shakers have become dogmatic about their definition of old school play, and derisive of other ideas. The movement has become so divisive that several ACTUAL luminaries of the old school have publicly divorced themselves of it--to the "don't let the door hit you on the way out" of the movers and shakers of the current movement.

    Call me crazy, but if you don't care about losing the respect of the gentlemen who started the whole thing to begin with, how old school are you, really?

    Not to mention, the movement has (as was always destined to happen) become overburdened with material. Too many retro clones and nostalgia games with not enough to distinguish each from all the others.

    I was one of the early adopters, with Spellcraft & Swordplay, but I also quickly tried to establish S&S as its own identity outside the OSR. Then real life and grad school happened and I had to put my company on hold. But that's neither here nor there. I'm a big fan of old school play. I like OSRIC. I like Swords & Wizardry okay. I adore Labyrinth Lord--it's my favorite of all. But in the end, when I play, I just pull out AD&D first edition. I think the perceived in-fighting and dogma of the OSR has nullified any momentum it had as a movement.

  4. Call me crazy, but if you don't care about losing the respect of the gentlemen who started the whole thing to begin with, how old school are you, really?

    It's a funny world. If we show the slightest bit of deference toward the old guys, we're told we're a bunch of idol worshipers. If we differ from them, never mind criticize them, we're told we're not really old school. I guess we can't win.

  5. I think the perceived in-fighting and dogma of the OSR has nullified any momentum it had as a movement.

    And I think it's largely just that - perceived.

    It's a shame you seem to have lost your passion Jason, it's individuals like yourself that have done so much to encourage other people to be creative.

    There have been a couple of movers and shakers within the OSR who have, after a run-in with one or two others, decided that they hate the whole scene. That's hardly indicative of a fractured movement or stalling momentum. I would suggest the evidence says otherwise.

  6. Okay, I like the logo. :)
    Thank you.
    Now let me see if I have anything compatible with the original white box...

  7. Shouldn't it just be called Middle-Aged School?

  8. Shouldn't it just be called Middle-Aged School?

    I've got several kids aged between 10 and 15 playing in our old school gaming group. None of them are fat or have beards.

  9. @austrodavicus: I haven't lost my passion. I'm still hardcore into old school gaming. I just think the members of the OSR have killed their own movement to the point where it's no longer a movement.

    @James: This isn't a case of "a few people had differing opinions." Disagreement is to be expected and encouraged so long as it's intelligent and respectful debate. Paragons of the games without which there would be no old-school movement have been outright dismissed to the point where they have publicly stated their desire to not be associated with the movement. This is definitely not a case of "we can't win." It's a case wherein the members of this so-called movement have forgotten what started the movement to begin with, and become so fragmented and trapped in their own personal dogma, that any chance the OSR ever had of becoming a real movement has been lost because nobody views it as relevant anymore, when the members of the movement do nothing but quibble and re-hash the same old points over and over again. And for the record, I've never considered you part of the problem. It would be disingenuous to spell out names, but there are a few specific people that have directly contributed to the problem, and you're not one of them.

    I'm pleased as punch that there's support out there on some level for original and early edition gaming again. That's awesome. I just think the "movement" collapsed under its own weight the moment a few people started taking themselves overly serious as some sort of old-school flag-wavers and/or luminaries, able to spell out for everyone what exactly constitutes "old school gaming," took themselves far too seriously, and forgot the fact that we game for one

    So I'll keep buying support products for old-school gaming; I just don't see the movement being a movement anymore. It's lost its relevance on that kind of large scale. And mayhap it's just better that way, staying small and focused.

  10. I see it as a group of people still passionate about the game they fell in love with as a kid. The only unifying factor being that it all sprouted from that little white box published in '74.

    I don't think there can ever be too many good products, or too much creativity, or too many cool things to choose from. Just fans making creative stuff and offering it to other fans.

    Oh, and of course, with passion there are occasional heated debates. So what? It's all very interesting.

  11. Also, I think it's really harsh to enforce OD&D as the only game relevant for use of the OSR logo. That nullifies OSRIC and Labyrinth Lord, the first two retro-clones which started the whole thing to begin with.

    ...not counting Castles & Crusades and Hackmaster, both of which I think deserve fair credit for making people remember AD&D on a wide scale in the first place.

  12. It's a case wherein the members of this so-called movement have forgotten what started the movement to begin with, and become so fragmented and trapped in their own personal dogma, that any chance the OSR ever had of becoming a real movement has been lost because nobody views it as relevant anymore, when the members of the movement do nothing but quibble and re-hash the same old points over and over again.

    I'll readily concede that there are now so many old school blogs and forums that it's impossible for me to stay on top of them all anymore, so maybe there's stuff like this going on somewhere outside my view. But, from what I've seen, the OSR is broader, deeper, and better established than it was in 2007, when I first started looking back to the games of my youth. Maybe I'm willfully blind to it to all this acrimony you're seeing, I don't know. From where I'm sitting, though, things are really good.

  13. Jason: Labyrinth Lord, OSRIC, Castles & Crusades, and even Hackmaster are all, in essence, compatible with the original White Box set. So I don't get your point. I even stretched out the definition to include 1st-3rd to some degree.

    For the logo to have ANY meaning it has to draw a line somewhere. And any line drawn is not going to be without controversy.

    I agree with James, I don't see all of this acrimony. I see a lot of intelligent, thoughtful, and creative discussion. Sometimes heated, yes, but usually well intentioned.

    Furthermore, the logo is clearly a play on a logo associated with the world's premiere fantasy roleplaying game. So it wouldn't make much sense for it to be used with a CoC or a T&T or a Traveller retro-clone.

  14. I think the OSR encompasses a lot more than just OD&D and its compatible offspring so I think the suggested criteria are too limiting.

    To me the OSR represents a return to an older style of play, not merely a return to one particular rule system.

    The OSR logo looks to me more like a play on TSR's logo, not D&D's, but in any case I always took it as a fun, tongue-in-cheek homage to a company that was iconic to the golden age of gaming, so I don't see why it wouldn't be just as suitable for a non-D&D retro clone. If it isn't then perhaps we need a more appropriate logo that represents the broad scope of the OSR. Personally, though, I think the logo is just fine - you merely need to expand the criteria to be more inclusive so as to represent the entire community.

  15. With regard to putting limits or borders on the idea of "old school renaissance", I think (let's be honest with ourselves here) if you're going to use the logo for some purpose, whatever that is, you're probably coloring within the lines according to some interpretation--or trying to.

    Otherwise, what would even interest you in picking up and using it anyway?

    I've added it to my sidebar at the bottom already. It's cute and it makes me feel warm and fuzzy about the rest of you out there in blogville.

  16. To quote Maximum Rock and Roleplay:

    "I just did this for fun! Feel free to use it if you want!"

  17. Jason, first I completely agree that "it's really harsh to enforce OD&D as the only game relevant for use of the OSR logo."

    Old school means a lot of things to a lot of people that basically boils down to an interest in out of print games or thier clones, many, but not all, of which are of a rules lite, free form style.

    But I can't really grasp why the OSR movement has "collapsed" "fragmented" etc. in your estimation, or even what losing "relevance" means. Relevance to who? It sounds more to me like you are comparing OSR to a political party, with some central platform and leadership in some sort of race. I've never seen the "movement" that way. Perhaps its the chaos theorist in me but I see the "movement" as a growing awarnes of interest by individual gamers in older style games in keeping with the phonemona of the internet. As such there cannot be too many products or games or blogs. What you see as fragmentation, I see as growth.

  18. It is impossible for the OSR "movement" to collapse or fragment. Because the very nature of the RPG community has been fragmented from the beginning - it DEFINES old school roleplaying. Each player or group of players make the game their own by playing and house-ruling what they perceive as "broken". The game caters to the taste of the players. This is why there will never be a Rosetta Clone - one retroclone to rule them all.

    There will always be RPG gamers. And the original White Box is undeniably the foundational root of them all. It is where it all started (discussions about the unpublished, obscure, and unknown Braunstein aside)

    But, for the logo to have any meaning whatsoever the buyer must know that the logo means "compatible with...". Fans of all systems will know what they are getting, and if it is interesting enough they will convert it to their system of choice, as they always have for the past 35+ years.

    To simply say it just means "old school", as this discussion has proved, will mean everything and nothing to everyone.

  19. IMO, the OSR is bigger and more vibrant than ever. *shrug*

  20. I had a fairly eloquent comment that Blogger just ate and now feel a machine rant coming on :)

    So instead I will say this:

    I believe what Jeff Rients proclaimed is a proper way forward. WotC will soon start cracking down on the use of their trade mark and the Ampersand or just '&' symbol is an excellent way to avoid that issue.

    That the OSR is getting bigger and stronger everday.

    That OSR does not mean that everything must be compatible with Oe. OSR is not a set of rules but a mentality.

    Most clones,etc are based on the SRD and I feel Microlite makes the best case as a universal starting point that anyone can then build what they need onto it.

    I'm not a huge fan of the core mechanic by any means but more players are familiar with it and more play a system based on it than any other non-4e system.

    That 53% of players now play something other than 4e, but of that number less than 3% play a pre-3x version.

    Microlite has shown that it can be adapted for use for everything from Oe to modern games. Randall Stuckey has shown this with his work on M74 and M75.

    I too have been kicking around not so much a manifesto but a set of guidelines that would not only help promote the rebirth of the open table concept and give players a unifying community with infinite diversity, but a common ground for the exchange of ideas and materials.

    I look forward to spirited debate on these ideas during the coming days. It's about to get very interesting :)

  21. And just a side thought, for those who might not have seen this yet:

    I think we grow stronger by the day.

  22. Thanks for the plug! Just want to point out that I did the graphic for fun, but I'm not really sure on the legality of actually using it. Maybe someone with some legal expertise could clue us in. :)

  23. I've had the logo up at Eternal Keep now for some time. Yes, they may try and say something about it. But it's weak and would take someone 5 minutes to rework it if necessary.

    I love the logo myself.

  24. This "movement" is only a number of disparate individuals who share a common interest in playing, discussing, and creating for old school role-playing. From everything I see, both the number of individuals and the depth and breadth of content that they're producing are expanding.

    Viva la OSR!

  25. I would LOVE to be at GenCon when folks pass that booth. I wonder how many will think they are dealing old used product? :)

  26. Since that logo wasn't used until 1982, wouldn't it be silly to associate it with 0e over AD&D?

  27. Yeah, the whole thing is silly. But, that doesn't matter. At least it is FUN! I haven't yet seen a tricky or clever way to turn the old wizard logo, or for that matter the old lizard logo, or even the old GK logo into a clever OSR logo.

  28. I love the idea. Pulling all those diverse-looking modules (with layouts ranging from monochrome-lookalikes to the "white wolfy" The Cursed Chateau) under one umbrella (even if it's just a tiny logo) is a win for everyone - publishers and customers alike.

  29. I have liked the logo all along. They will have to send a cease and desist before I stop using it. Besides, it's not disallowed under the OGL and that's all that matters to me. :)

  30. The logo is a parody. Parodies are well protected under law.

  31. Any chance of being a bit more liberal about the use permissions for the logo? Over at I have started to work on (yet another ;-) ) OSR clone (IMHO) of Gamma World and I really would love to use the logo. But white box edition compatibility is not really something I am going for. Reasons explained (at least somewhat) in

    Any comments would be appreciated.

  32. t. biskup: use the logo however you wish. the fact anyone would even want to put it on their product says enough about that product.

  33. Hi, I am new here.

    I am an old school gamer but I quit gaming when I got married in the early 90's. A few years ago I found a group and started gaming for the first time in about 15 years. Unfortunately, after about a year and a half I started my own business and that took so much of my time I had to stop gaming again. Now, my schedule is much more open and I want to start gaming once again.

    In addition I have started a comic strip House Rulz based loosely on a family of old school gamers I used to play with.

    I started a blog as a way to introduce my comic strip:

    In exploring the other blogs I found OSR. I think House Rulz follows the spirit of OSR. If the characters were real people they would defiantly belong here.

    Because of that I would like to use your logo on my blog.

    Today, only the first strip is posted. I will post one every Tuesday and Thursday, but I am just getting started (although I have close to 30 strips ready).

    Check it out and let me know if you think it would be an appropriate place to use the OSR logo.

    Thank you,

  34. Old-School means 'in the spirit of' original rules not in the meaningless pursuit of purist dogma or dicematics (unless that is your thing)

    OK, I'll stop now for I have said nothing

  35. Hi Thomas!
    I was wondering if we could use the OSR logo at the Russian RPG Wiki ( It is not a white box compatible product per se, so I have to ask, but we do have a few articles about old-school stuff. If you agree to make it available under Creative Commons BY-SA license, I can promise to make a high quality vector version as a bonus ;)

  36. Jason must be eating his words big time. "OSR has been crushed by it's own weight." Ironic then that WotC is now coming out with 5e in response to the MASSIVE movement of the OSR. It's not a political movement, Jason. It's a movement of hearts and minds. OSR is growing, not shrinking.

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  38. As a fan I reserve the right to define what I consider "Old School". Just like, in the old school spirit I reserve the right to tweak, modify, replace or bend whatever rules I am using in my campaign. I read some blogs and yes some people are pushing their own definition of what qualifies as Old school but, really, who the f*** are they to dictate to me about anything. No one is forcing me to read any blogs, and to be honest I rarely do anyway. I'm much more interested in two way conversations with my fellow gamers than to be lectured in the correct way to play. In other words if someone in the community is getting on your last nerve don't interact with them. Life's too short.