Thursday, August 25, 2011

Let's Talk OSRIC

When I first found OSRIC I thought my dreams had come true. I had been looking for some way to continue playing 1e without having to direct all my new players (on average 8 to 15 a year) to where they could hunt up new copies of the oop rules for original AD&D. OSRIC was free, and it was very 1e. So we started playing, everyone else using OSRIC 2.0 and me using my 1e books.

The first trouble started coming up with attribute bonuses. They were slightly different than the original books. Then came the spell differences. The wording was just different enough to cause interpretation problems between me and my players. They felt like a spell worked one way, and I understood it another. Then came experience points. They were different on just about every level for every class. Then came magic items and differences in description there as well. This began to be such a source of frustration for me that I made a DM executive decision and told my players that OSRIC was fine as a rough approximation of the rules, but where there was a difference my core books trumped any differences in OSRIC rules.

That didn't last long, as my players were the ones that were frustrated. It became quickly apparent that if we were going to play OSRIC we were going to have to all use OSRIC books. And the whole reason I had wanted to use OSRIC in the first place was that it allowed me to use all my original books. Now I felt like I was playing with a cheap imitation of the original that I knew so well. In fact I players would ask me something about a rule, spell or mechanics and I would answer with a 1e answer without even looking it up. I knew it by heart. They would then disagree with me, or quote OSRIC to the contrary. I really couldn't argue with it, because they were right about the rule or question under consideration was written differently in OSRIC. So I began to make a list of differences between the two systems and stopped when I reached a page and a half without even getting past page 50. This had just verified to me that the game could not really be played side by side with 1e books. But it went deeper than that.

What I began to see in how the rules were presented in OSRIC was different in spirit than the game I was used to. I don't want to say that it was without a doubt different in spirit than Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, but ti was definitely different than how I had played. There was a subtle undercurrent in the presentation of the rules that made it clear that this was one person or group's interpretation of what D&D was. That it had lost something very Gygaxian in translation.

James from The Underdark Gazette made a good point in his comment on my last entry,

"V2 is a complete game, but OSRIC is missing is all the little tidbits of Gygaxian wisdom and rules, spread throughout the DMG, here and there. It's a loss that is acutely felt by DM's, but not necessarily by players, who've never read the DMG."

Which made me want to clarify. I was really judging OSRIC unfairly. I came at it looking for a verbatim replacement for 1e. It really can't be that. No retro-clone legally can. And what I was missing was Gary's spirit in the game. OSRIC really hadn't replicated that for me and I missed it. I should have judged OSRIC with new eyes on it's own merits. It is a game a its own right. A complete game. Different from the original but close. I have judged other clones more on their own merits and perhaps have been slighting OSRIC some. It didn't measure up as a replacement for 1e because, as I now know, no clone can replace the original game. Which I think is what Matt Finch was saying here. At first I took this a little personally. I mean I'm looking for a game to make my default game, my goto system, my game of choice. And also a system to publish my own stuff within. And he seems to be telling me that the only reason his clone even exists is to get people to play from the original books. It's just an intro.

Now I can see that this was really a misunderstanding on my part. Matt was trying to point out no clone can ever replace the originals. For one they are created by different people and won't and indeed can't contain their spirit, the spirit they breathed into the game. That spirit has to come through in translation. And that's a tough thing to do. In my opinion Matt Finch has created a masterpiece. The thing he didn;t anticipate, nor did Sutart Marshall with OSRIC, was that these clones would become the games of choice for thousands of gamers. It was never their intention to replace the originals--in fact Matt thus admits he can't replace the original. But Matt has created a game that has its own spirit, in the tradition of the original 0e game. I love the weird dark stuff that is coming out from S&W. Stuff like that was not really available for 0e. It is different, and in some ways better. In this case the creation has exceeded the master's intention. And Matt is truly a master. He's just evidently humble enough to give the real credit and magic to the inspiration in the original games. And that's cool too.

I would in fact encourage people to do exactly what Matt is encouraging them not to do. Play S&W as your game of choice. See it as a creative tool for your game. Sure get the originals eventually and use them as fodder for inspiration but play the game that is out there now. S&W. Lots of people are actually doing that now, and doing some really cool stuff.

The fact is I haven't judged OSRIC by the same yardstick, but that was my own hang-up not OSRIC's. Stuart did exactly what Matt has done, and the new First Edition label and the Advanced Adventures stuff is a tribute to that effect. If I were to play OSRIC now I would approach it with open eyes and as a game in its own right. Not as another copy of 1e. With that in mind I might give the game more of a fair shake. There are things I like more about other games, and some rules in OSRIC that Stuart listed as optional that I would remove altogether (but I guess that's why they're optional huh?). But I could say that about any of the clones and truthfully about the originals as well.

So, all said I apologize for unfairly judging OSRIC. Consider it back in play as I take the time to judge the game on its own merits. I must say however, that there are those more grognardly than myself who look to OSRIC with the same tone which Matt approached S&W. That OSRIC is not to be played as a standalone game but as a publishing tool. I think these folks are worried OSRIC might wipe 1e off the map, and that they can see and feel the differences between the two. But as in the case of Matt's S&W Stu's OSRIC has exceeded his wildest imaginations as the game to play if you want to get into 1e gaming.

I say kudos to them both and that their success is to be lauded, even if they are too humble to admit their impact in the OSR world and the gaming universe. Thanks guys!
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