The trouble with the OSR–more accurately, my gripe with them–is that the games do very little to modify what I’ll call the “D&D experience.”
What is the “D&D experience”? Apparently it’s “delve into dungeons, striving against peril to collect treasure, slay monsters, and increase in level”.
These are my three most memorable D&D experiences:
- A bunch of zero-level villagers on the run in a Ravenloft world, totally in over our heads (we never advanced a level, and we had a fine time).
- Revolutionary Muslim characters with faiths based on musical genres, striking back against the forces of disco and Michael Jackson (a new soundtrack every session, and karaoke).
- The Greyhawk Conclave, a half-LARP half-PBM about a yearly gathering of high-level wizards.
I have played games that were self-consciously about high-stakes dungeon delving and pushing minis about and disposable characters, and we chose to play the game that way, at that time.
Note that the author name-checks a few OSR products including Astonishing Swordsmen and Sorcerers of Hyperborea, Dungeon Crawl Classics and LotFP. Great looking products, visually different and striking. Now, compare that to Shadows of Esteren or Symbaroum or other modern glossy RPGs. Games which aren’t D&D, but might as well be: they’re a different way of drawing elves and goblins and spooky landscapes, coupled with some new-ish mechanics and reskinned monsters and magic. They have just as much potential for imaginative or derivative play, depending on the imagination (and bias) of the players. I’d say it’s the pictures and the physical artefact that attracts consumers, who may be playing in spite of the different mechanics rather than because of them.