Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Why OSR Leans Conservative

Now, this is, of course, a generalization.  Old school D&D play-styles tend towards a more conservative perspective. 

But why, some of you are asking?  Well, I've had trouble putting my finger on it... always dancing around the issue and never quite getting to the core, the essence.  That is, until today when I watched Ben Shapiro's Sunday Special with George Will. 

It's around the 6:45 mark that things became clear to me: either the exhilaration of an open world or planning things from above.  Those are the two options, or perhaps a mix of both.

Those who prefer old school D&D (and other games) like the inherent uncontrolled chaos, spontaneity, and vast opportunity available with a sandbox style campaign.  It's exciting because anything could happen.  You could get killed in the first encounter... or eventually wind up as King!

Those preferring newer RPGs and play-styles want everything decided ahead of time, equitable, balanced, fair, and more or less predictable.  It's safe, but everyone should get more or less what they expect. 

As in games, so in life.  No wonder there's a culture war going on within the RPG hobby, industry, and community. 

Later, Mr. Will talks about some of the founding fathers of America and framers of he U.S. Constitution, describing them as deists.  I haven't thought about deism for some time, but have always seen the wisdom in that concept. 

"The Deist God is like a rich aunt in Australia... benevolent, but rarely heard from."

Who thinks that GMing is a bit like Deism?  He sets the scene and then just floats away until maybe towards the end, adjudicating from afar.

It's The Dungeon Master style of GMing that I talked about here.

Anyway, I found the entire discussion to be worth listening to.  Perhaps you will, too.


p.s. I still have Cha'alt hardcovers.  Click this link for details!


  1. For Traveller, I'm just a Referee in a sandbox is all, saying when dice rolls are needed.

  2. Replies
    1. Would you agree that those two options are opposed and that one is a more conservative approach while the other is a more progressive approach?

  3. Interesting. How does this affect playstyles? Do editions reflect the current political reality, and is the OSR an attempt to turn back the clock, or revisionist history?

  4. As a very liberal Marxist who prefers old school play, I laugh at the assertion. Or maybe I'm just the exception that proves the rule. :)

    1. Not sure, but I'd love for you and Aaron to expound on your answers. Do you disagree with the original premise? Or is it just a difference between what you prefer in a game versus what you want in real life?

    2. I'll get to when I have a chance; probably tomorrow (Thursday). :)

  5. I joked that the GM has a God/Hitler Complex, but that works out because the players have a Worshiper/Poland Complex...

  6. I read many blogs and read many forums. Considering what people say they do and what they share they did. I would estimate that about 5% of the OSR is your Dungeon Master, 60% are your Zeus leaning Wizard of OZ and 35% are pure Wizard of OZ. And that is excluding from the discussion anyone whose primary home is RPGNET.

    Politically the vast majority of the OSR are liberal(pro-gay, pro-trans, pro-abortion), a tiny number are conservative (pro-life, pro-child safety, pro-free speech, pro-honesty is the best policy), a slightly larger number are libertarian (get off my lawn) and a tiny amount are anarchists (burn it all down).

    Forums as examples as I observe them to be (IMO per 1st amendment).
    RPGNET Ultra far left wing liberal(pro-gay, pro-trans, pro-abortion, anti-child, anti-morals, anti-men, anti-Christian) authoritarian thought police moderation.

    Dragonsfoot Left wing liberals (pro-gay, pro-trans, pro-abortion, anti-Christian) with a dash of thought police. (This is the majority of forums)

    OD&D Discussion far left wing liberals(pro-gay, pro-trans, pro-abortion, anti-Christian) with authoritarian thought police moderation.

    Knights & Knaves Alehouse (odd mix) liberal(pro-gay, pro-trans, pro-abortion, anti-Christian) mixed with libertarian (Get off my lawn, pro-gun) mixed with anarchists (burn it all down). Preach DIY but at heart are BTB Nazi's.

    The RPGSite mostly liberals (95% of whom claim to be conservative)(pro-gay, pro-trans, pro-abortion, anti-Christian), a few conservatives (pro-life, pro-child safety, pro-free speech, pro-honesty is the best policy), a few libertarian (Get off my lawn, pro-gun) and quite a few anarchists (burn it all down).

    IMO the OSR leans so far left their left ears touch their left ankles. There is not really anywhere online for conservatives old school TTRPG people to hang out.

    The blogs are mostly left wing, the forums are all left wing, the FB groups are left wing, the MeWe groups are left wing, the Discords are left wing. There is no place that you can hang out if you don't support special rights for gays and baby-killers.

    1. Hmm, I think the vast majority believe that everyone should have rights (you can be gay if you want to), but conservatives aren't for any special rights, giving them extra protections or privileges.

      I have no idea on the abortion issue. In all the years I've been talking OSR online, abortion has maybe come up once or twice. I used to be for it, now I'm against it, except in special circumstances.

      I also believe a third of OSR GMs fall into "The Dungeon Master" category. But that's just an educated guess.

    2. I agree with VS and am, in fact, a conservative (which means do what you want just not in front of me and it better involve consenting adults). I'm tired of competitive victimhood and cancel culture. IMO, some time in the last decade we went from The American Dream is to be rich to The American Dream is to make the rich support me. It's as if success has become a dirty word. I have younger adults tell me that their generation can't afford the luxuries I have (with 20+ extra years of experience) that I can. That's right. When I was 20-25 I couldn't afford a house, but I eventually built 2. Everyone wants everything RIGHT NOW. And yet are primitive primate brains can't handle how fast our culture is changing. I mean 160 years ago we were agriculturally based and owns slaves here in the States.

    3. #John Adams - (pro-gay, pro-trans) & (get off my lawn) all describes Libertarians. You need to reword your assumptions if you want to convince non-liberals.

  7. From the video above, the Bill of Rights is not rights granted by the government, the Bill of Rights is to prohibit the government from infringing on natural rights that supersede any government.

  8. Counter-Theory: Gaming is inherently left-leaning. Just the finer points of the Overton Window are moving, so 80ies-style leftists ("Everyone deserves an equal chance, regardless of STR or DEX value") are considered Nazis by 21st-century leftists ("Everyone deserves equal STR and DEX values").

    1. That's a plausible theory, indeed.

    2. THAT is an excellent point and probably spot on. I'm a 47 year old white male. I was raised that everyone was equal irregardless of race, religions, or sex. Now I'm being told that I'm the problem and that special rules need to be created for ever more specific identities that only agree that I am the problem.

      They changed the rules on me and I'm pissed.

  9. I think someone’s gaming preferences don’t have much materially to do with the person as a political actor. Maybe if you want to limit these things to a “culture war” of grievances, then your gaming will then take on an outsized significance. I’m invested in fighting for a more egalitarian and rational economy, and feel capable of looking at the pleasure I take in old school gaming with a critical eye (as anyone should.) I don’t even consider art to be very important to most struggles that matter, whether it’s organizing your workplace, your apartment complex, or fighting for democratic freedoms, such as the right to change one’s gender.

    Sometimes when I feel a similar need to justify my gaming with my politics I think I am attracted to the DIY blogosphere for being an option for a more democratic, perhaps working class, rpg design space.

  10. You might be right, or it might just be a coincidence. It would need more research I guess. What I do feel confident saying is that your neat “open world chaos vs planned story” dichotomy seems reductive. The OSR is far from the only place where emergent storytelling is preferred to pre-defined plots. PbtA springs to mind, as well as Burning Wheel and it’s offspring, and those spaces tend to be very progressive.

    I’d guess these games appeal to leftists precisely because of their open-ended nature: you buy exactly one product which emerges from a horizontal community of designers, and you use it to run your own games for as long as you want. In contrast, modern D&D is from a big company that aims to get people used to running carefully plotted, detail-heavy adventures so they can sell you several expensive hardback books a year.

    Also, if it’s true that the OSR is more conservative-leaning than other areas of the hobby, one could maybe draw a link between the grognardism of some of its fans and the conservative tendency towards nostalgia for a past era (often uncritically) assumed to be a golden age as against the decadence of the present.

  11. I think attributing political viewpoints to preference of rules is blinkered, as you're only going to perceive a biased perspective. If you are a conservative and game primarily with conservatives and follow blogs of fellow conservative gamers, then you're going to assume all gamers that like the same things as you also share the same viewpoint. They don't.