Does the term "OSR" just mean "D&D? Can the OSR grow to encompass other games and play styles? Should it?

Gringnr

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I think about this a lot. With the growing number of non-D&D retro-clones out now, is the OSR expanding, in a meaningful way, beyond its D&D roots? Does it need to?

D&D's popularity has waxed and waned over the years. And while the current amount enthusiasm and visibility it has garnered is nice, it remains to be seen how long it will last.

Would it be good for the hobby as a whole to be de-coupled from D&D, at least to the extent that awareness of different games, systems and concepts becomes more well known? How long can a hobby continue to enjoy popularity that is largely focused on a single game?

Gamers have been discovering (or re-discovering) the joys of other games for years now, and cloning or adapting them. But, can these other systems gain significant traction? And if they can, what does that mean for the OSR, and for gaming in general?
 

Brock Savage

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Hi @Gringnr this is an interesting topic and I'd love to jump in but it would be extremely helpful if you defined what you mean by "D&D" within the context of this discussion. At the risk of sounding pedantic, I want to skip unnecessary arguments and misunderstandings.
 

Gringnr

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Hi @Gringnr this is an interesting topic and I'd love to jump in but it would be extremely helpful if you defined what you mean by "D&D" within the context of this discussion. At the risk of sounding pedantic, I want to skip unnecessary arguments and misunderstandings.

That's a great question. I'm not sure I even know, to be honest. I mean, is 4th Edition considered "OSR"?

But, for purposes of my question, I'd say any version of D&D proper. Hope that helps, but I doubt it does.

Made an edit which changed my answer significantly.
 

Gringnr

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Perhaps "D&D" is too broad. I don't really know.
 

Edgewise

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With the growing number of non-D&D retro-clones out now, is the OSR expanding, in a meaningful way, beyond its D&D roots?
Yes!
Does it need to?
Define "need" in this context. If you mean to ask if this is necessary for the OSR to stay vibrant, I'm not sure. I feel like the OSR represents a table clearing in RPGs. You can then proceed to build from there, but there's an argument to make that it stops being OSR once you embellish past a certain point.

In another post, another user was wondering whether Godbound could be considered OSR when it violates one of the original tenets ("heroic not superheroic"). At the time I said "sure," but I could just as easily say "nope." But even if it's not OSR, it was made possible by the OSR. And that's what's important to me.

In other words, as far as I'm concerned, the OSR has said what it needed to say. It doesn't need to say it over and over. Whether a thing is or is not OSR is far less important than the question of what the movement has inspired. Is the OSR dead? Naw, dawg - it will always live on in our hearts.
 
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robertsconley

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There are individuals, including myself, who plays, publish, and promote classic editions of D&D. Label this group as one sees fit.

Co-mingling with this there are individuals, also including myself who play, publish, and promote classic editions of D&D but also do the same thing for other systems.

Both groups are an ever changing kaleidoscope of individuals who start, plug away, and drop out. What we do know at this point that it been going on for ten years. That is appears there will always be a group of hobbyists involved in playing, promoting, and publishing for classic edition of D&D as those edition has a timeless quality that continues to appeal coupled with hundreds of practical examples of how to run campaigns using these systems.

Dwarfing the group that plays, promotes, and publishes for classic editions are those who play, promote, and publish for the latest edition of D&D. There are Four times the number of 3PP products for D&D 5th edition compared to the OSR. 20,000+ versus 5,000+

All of this is driven by the low barriers of entry created by the following
  • sharing of intellectual property
  • ease of distribution via the internet and print on demand.
  • the low cost of digital tools to create content
  • ease of communication via the internet.

Would it be good for the hobby as a whole to be de-coupled from D&D, at least to the extent that awareness of different games, systems and concepts becomes more well known?
Why? The current situation is a result of hobbyists voting with their time and money. Not artificial scarcity created by limits of shelf space, retail trade, and distribution space. And there the fact that RPG campaigns are social gathering so the social networking effect has a huge impact on what system get played but.... (see below)

How long can a hobby continue to enjoy popularity that is largely focused on a single game?
Indefinitely due to the low cost of distribution, content creation, and communication.

It only intensified in the last decade with the advent of Virtual tabletops software. A VTT works so well with face to face gaming that you can freely move from one to the other as circumstances permit. As illustrated by the hobby's response to the recent pandemic which forced many face to face group to move on-line to continue gaming.

The biggest sign of how the low costs impacted the hobby is that dozens of small obscure systems carved out a niches where the small number of fans can meet, chat, and play. A indication of this is the github repository of character sheets found for Roll20.

Wrapping it up
The low cost for creating and sharing content means that it possible for a determined and skilled creator to carve out and sustain their own niche. These creators can get by on a customer base in the low hundreds. But because of their small size it is hard to be aware of many of these. In addition while possible it is work, many hobbyists find the effort takes too much of the time they have for their pastime. However it also means there are thousands of freely shared works for a variety of systems.

One more thing the Downside
All what I said above has a major downside. Namely that the onus is on you to create the content if it doesn't exist. There are many would be creators who don't want to in charge of writing, and drawing, and mapping, and layout and editing, and website creation and accounting and etc, etc. What evolving is not well suited for folks good at just one thing. It overly rewards people who are good at one thing and organized enough to learn the other things or recruit others to help.

It not totally bleak in that there many ad-hoc and more formal groups of folks banding together. Not quite a SJ Games game company with a staff and salaries but not a author doing it all either. However you need to find the right people to do this with and that doesn't always happen.
 

robertsconley

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4th Edition considered "OSR"?
It doesn't matter there is no shared IP one can use to publish for D&D 4th edition. You will have to rely on advice of a copyright attorney to come up with a system that kinda of like but not the same as D&D 4e. Or you just forego the attorney to make a system that is inspired by D&D 4e but it is own thing.

Either way the lack of shared IP means the barrier is considerably higher to support D&D 4e. Especially compared to systems like Legend, classic D&D, D&D 3.X, or D&D 5e.
 

AsenRG

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I think about this a lot. With the growing number of non-D&D retro-clones out now, is the OSR expanding, in a meaningful way, beyond its D&D roots?
IMO, yes.
Does it need to?
Need no. Would it be useful? Most likely. [/QUOTE]
D&D's popularity has waxed and waned over the years. And while the current amount enthusiasm and visibility it has garnered is nice, it remains to be seen how long it will last. [/QUOTE]
And that's precisely why.
[/QUOTE]

Would it be good for the hobby as a whole to be de-coupled from D&D, at least to the extent that awareness of different games, systems and concepts becomes more well known?
Again, IMO yes.
How long can a hobby continue to enjoy popularity that is largely focused on a single game?
Until said game starts to feel stale (which might never happen for some people), but even then - only among people who would like this specific game. Which isn't everybody.

Gamers have been discovering (or re-discovering) the joys of other games for years now, and cloning or adapting them. But, can these other systems gain significant traction?
There are countries where D&D isn't the biggest local system. So I don't see why that wouldn't be possible.

And if they can, what does that mean for the OSR, and for gaming in general?
That it would be probably better off expanding what it has to offer.

Caveat: If nobody has posted the opposite opinion while I'm writing that post, it would happen soon.
 

AsenRG

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It doesn't matter there is no shared IP one can use to publish for D&D 4th edition. You will have to rely on advice of a copyright attorney to come up with a system that kinda of like but not the same as D&D 4e. Or you just forego the attorney to make a system that is inspired by D&D 4e but it is own thing.

Either way the lack of shared IP means the barrier is considerably higher to support D&D 4e. Especially compared to systems like Legend, classic D&D, D&D 3.X, or D&D 5e.
Or you can just base it off 13th Age.
 

VisionStorm

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To me the term “OSR” is inextricably tied to D&D. People obsessed with Basic D&D were the first ones to use the term, that I’m aware of. And every single person I’ve run into that self-identifies as “OSR” uses it to mean “old school D&D” (mostly Basic).

That being said I do think there’s a place for a “revival” of older editions of other games, like old White Wolf and such. I just don’t think that the term “OSR” can be used without confusion. There’s an entire “OSR” community already and they’re obsessed with Basic D&D.
 

robertsconley

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I believe the record is over 2500 years and counting.
My personal go to for this is "Whoa be these poor chess clubs who play such a old, broken and obsolete" Why are they not playing 3D Chess!
But Go is an excellent example to use.

Back in 2009 when most hobbyist still reacted to the OSR with "You got to be shitting me! That broken system?!" I wrote this

To me the Old School Renaissance is not about playing a particular set of rules in a particular way, the dungeon crawl. It is about going back to the roots of our hobby and seeing what we could do differently. What avenues were not explored because of the commercial and personal interests of the game designers of the time
One of the unfortunate side effect of TSR perusing their commercial interests is that they convince the larger hobby that newer is better as far as games go.
 

urbwar

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I think about this a lot. With the growing number of non-D&D retro-clones out now, is the OSR expanding, in a meaningful way, beyond its D&D roots?
Yes. I'm not that much into D&D, though I've picked up a few OSR titles. On the other hand, Cepheus Engine has a thriving community of people who were unhappy with the direction MongTrav 2 went in. There is some fantastic stuff being made for that, and not just sci-fi (though the sci-fi side has given us some great settings like Hostile and These Stars are Ours!, and the Cyberpunk game Zaibatsu).

I'd also consider BRP offshoots like OpenQuest and Renaissance to be OSR, given they come from system that has been around almost as long as D&D.

Then you have stuff like Sine Nomine, Old Skull Publishing, some of Beyond Belief Game's products, and more.

Of course, I think it expanded years ago (since many of the titles I listed came out years ago), and the spotlight isn't on just D&D retroclones anymore
 

Stan

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To me, OSR and every other grouping of games is akin to classification of music, rather nebulous and useful only to the point it helps people find new stuff they like. If you get wrapped up in who counts as in or out, it leads to a dry academia that largely misses the point. There are no gatekeepers of what counts as in a category which is largely a good thing as that is far less important than whether something is good.

OSR originally meant largely D&D retroclones. As we now have multiple clones of every version of D&D, I think it's time to branch out to things which are like X but with Y or else everyone would be retreading old ground - many publishers have been doing this for a while. For example, DCC is like D&D but is very different in many ways, choosing to amplify aspects of the game to make their own thing.
 

Baulderstone

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To me the term “OSR” is inextricably tied to D&D. People obsessed with Basic D&D were the first ones to use the term, that I’m aware of. And every single person I’ve run into that self-identifies as “OSR” uses it to mean “old school D&D” (mostly Basic).

That being said I do think there’s a place for a “revival” of older editions of other games, like old White Wolf and such. I just don’t think that the term “OSR” can be used without confusion. There’s an entire “OSR” community already and they’re obsessed with Basic D&D.
That's my feeling. The OSR label was used for years on book covers and Drive-Thru tags to show that a product was compatible with early editions of D&D, since they can't actually use the name D&D. Now you have all kinds of products using the OSR label, like Zweihander, Bastionland and Warlock that aren't D&D at all, the OSR category on DriveThru is slipping into meaninglessness.
 

under_score

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Defining the OSR got boring about 5 years ao. I'm all for games outside the B/X/AD&D world getting the same treatment of going back to basics and trying new things, but generally skeptical that most of the time when someone claims that their product that has zero compatibility, doesn't share any design principals, and isn't being discussed in any OSR communities, is suddenly OSR, I smell marketing, and it stinks.
 

Baulderstone

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Defining the OSR got boring about 5 years ao. I'm all for games outside the B/X/AD&D world getting the same treatment of going back to basics and trying new things, but generally skeptical that most of the time when someone claims that their product that has zero compatibility, doesn't share any design principals, and isn't being discussed in any OSR communities, is suddenly OSR, I smell marketing, and it stinks.
The cynical part of me thinks there is an element of this. The OSR bestseller list is a much easier hill to climb than the general list.
 

Endless Flight

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i remember how there was this idea a few years back to have the "OSR", which is TSR D&D retroclones, and the "osr", which is pretty much every other RPG pre-2000 that's been retro-cloned. I guess it works. I'm kind of tired of labels. I mean twenty years from now D&D 4e will be "old school" and we'll be the dinosaurs.
 

ffilz

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Hmm, a line of thinking I've go:

On the one hand, OSR is a movement of folks looking back to games of the 70s and early 80s and seeing playable games, sometimes in search of some supposed way the games were played back then.

On the other hand, OSR is a marketing movement for content produced to be compatible with early editions of D&D.

These ideas are sort of compatible, but also definitely different.

Unfortunately the "old" in OSR is always going to be a wishy washy concept. For some folks, "old" is anything other than the current edition of D&D, so we will see folks wanting to use OSR to look back to games of the 90s or the 2000s or the 2010s, either from the playing perspective or the marketing compatible content. And then the waters quickly become so muddled as to start to become useless.

I'm not sure what the best way to navigate the mud flats is.
 

JRT

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I think the problem is that the term OSR is a term that seems to take on different meanings.

At the beginning, it specifically referred to clones...

(I hate the term "retro-clone" since people started using that incorrectly as a synonym for clone--you can't "retro-clone" 5e, retro is the past).

...of the first editions of D&D (OD&D, AD&D 1/2, B/X, or BECMI). That was a good label and it pretty much was simple.

The problem was that it became a lot more involved. People slowly changed the definition of the term mean the following.

  • The "Movement" behind it--the fandom of the games, or the ethos of the OSR creators.
  • A Short-Hand for other clones of non-D&D games, but games from the 70s and early 80s. Traveller or others of that ilk.
  • It's also come to define games where the creation (or the creators) are inspired by the game development style of the early games, but not necessarily making a compatible game itself. Which is why you're seeing a lot of games that claim to be OSR.
It doesn't help that this short-hand term is used as a marketing tool, which makes it a challenge because of the widely variant definitions.
 

JRT

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And I realized I posted this so late that others beat me to the punch, so sorry if I said anything redundant.
 

KrakaJak

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I believe the record is over 2500 years and counting.
I just did a bunch of research on this recently for something. Backgammon has been around for at least 5000 years. Has Go beat by a couple millennia :smile:
I hope that just proves your point further.

Back to the topic. I think OSR more defines an ethos, not a specific set of games. It's a community, a movement, not to put a self important spin on it. OSR is not a genre.

I consider Mothership an OSR game. It's not based on any older rulesets, it's not a fantasy game.
I consider DCC a OSR game. It's fantasy, but not really very close to any version of D&D at all.
I think OSE is an OSR game. It's a cleaned up reproduction of B/X D&D.

I think that ethos contains:
Unbound creativity: this leads to a lot of gonzo and surreal creations, but I think it also leads to some pretty mind blowing stuff.
Old School Production: you can make a fine RPG in a single zine, a few booklets, or a small boxset. Big books are okay too, but every nook and cranny is filled with art and gameable content.
RPGs are improvised. RPGs are random: illogical/unrealistic/unbelievable/genre inappropriate results are a feature, not a bug. Roll with the results.

I think a lot of what qualifies as OSR is up o the eye of the beholder, see "it's a movement." You know it when you see it.
 

Vargold

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As Frank noted, the problem with "old" is that it's a moving target: 3rd edition is now 20 years old. White Wolf has been putting out 20th anniversary editions of their revised editions from the 1990s. And so on.
 

Endless Flight

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In four years, D&D will be celebrating it's 50th anniversary. I will be 51. Even to me, it's old. To a 25 to 30 year old kid, it's ancient. The OSR should be a free-flowing movement, just like how "oldies" changes on the radio. It's not going to bother me if some kid somewhere thinks 4e is old-school. So what? I still got my games.
 

Moonglum

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This is a term that lies somewhere between jargon and common usage, so it isn't surprising that it means different things to different people. Functionally, its original intent and 99% of its uses refer to materials resembling or intended for any pre-3E edition of D&D. But it is clearly in the spirit of the idea to apply it equally to materials aimed at reviving/reproducing/adding to other roleplaying games of similar vintage.
 

Black Leaf

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I think about this a lot. With the growing number of non-D&D retro-clones out now, is the OSR expanding, in a meaningful way, beyond its D&D roots? Does it need to?
The question for me is more whether wider old school gaming is expanding beyond the confines of the OSR.

And I think it may be.

Retroclones of other games can actually fit in there fine I think.

But what the OSR is largely known for is retroclones and/or dungeon crawls.

For game design informed by old school RPGs outside of that, I'm increasingly of the view that the OSR is more of an albatross than anything. (Including some games that use D&D as a base).

I'm inclined to let the OSRers keep their more narrow definition and work on promoting a concept of "old school roleplaying" instead, of which the OSR is a small but significant part.
 

FreeGamer

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Defining the OSR got boring about 5 years ao. I'm all for games outside the B/X/AD&D world getting the same treatment of going back to basics and trying new things, but generally skeptical that most of the time when someone claims that their product that has zero compatibility, doesn't share any design principals, and isn't being discussed in any OSR communities, is suddenly OSR, I smell marketing, and it stinks.
Oh, dude, I'm not going to name the group because it's mostly dead already and I don't want to poke that hornet's nest. But there was an OSR splinter group, sort of, and I recall the person in charge whining about all of the stuff that you just don't see in OSR products, one example being shared narration. I don't remember the whole list, but it's basically things that you might have seen in some form earlier on, but which didn't really catch on more broadly until at least the late 90s/early 00s. I remember my exact thought when I read the list: "Congratulations. You just invented The Forge. Welcome to 2000."
 

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I could have sworn we had this exact topic in the last year or so.

As far as I'm concerned OSR has little value beyond meaning a game that is based around OD&D, BD&D or AD&D. Calling Traveller, RQ, CoC, HERO, GURPS etc (all of which are 30+ years old) renders any blanket grouping kind of pointless. yeah they are old, but they share little more than age.

Traveller has developed its own collection of inspired by rule sets, RQ / CoC / BRP has developed into its own subgenre of d100 games. I see no value in expanding the OSR term to them.
 

3rik

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Oh, dude, I'm not going to name the group because it's mostly dead already and I don't want to poke that hornet's nest. But there was an OSR splinter group, sort of, and I recall the person in charge whining about all of the stuff that you just don't see in OSR products, one example being shared narration. I don't remember the whole list, but it's basically things that you might have seen in some form earlier on, but which didn't really catch on more broadly until at least the late 90s/early 00s. I remember my exact thought when I read the list: "Congratulations. You just invented The Forge. Welcome to 2000."
Was it that #DickDream "movement" that vaguely happened some time ago?
 

CRKrueger

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OSR is basically the TSR D&D Revival. Unfortunately, the name is far too broad.

A true Old School Renaissance would include other games.

There IS a true Old School Renaissance happening with lots of older games and systems being revived/cloned/hacked etc. but the OSR isn’t it.
 

under_score

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Oh, dude, I'm not going to name the group because it's mostly dead already and I don't want to poke that hornet's nest. But there was an OSR splinter group, sort of, and I recall the person in charge whining about all of the stuff that you just don't see in OSR products, one example being shared narration. I don't remember the whole list, but it's basically things that you might have seen in some form earlier on, but which didn't really catch on more broadly until at least the late 90s/early 00s. I remember my exact thought when I read the list: "Congratulations. You just invented The Forge. Welcome to 2000."
Oh yeah, that was funny. A group that totally loved the OSR but couldn't stand all those damned OSR fans starts their own nu-OSR and has a game jam that creates nothing that any OSR gamers had any interest in.
Weird that it didn't take off.
 

Baulderstone

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Oh, dude, I'm not going to name the group because it's mostly dead already and I don't want to poke that hornet's nest. But there was an OSR splinter group, sort of, and I recall the person in charge whining about all of the stuff that you just don't see in OSR products, one example being shared narration. I don't remember the whole list, but it's basically things that you might have seen in some form earlier on, but which didn't really catch on more broadly until at least the late 90s/early 00s. I remember my exact thought when I read the list: "Congratulations. You just invented The Forge. Welcome to 2000."
While I like that many OSR designers are expanding outwards rather than boxing themselves in, I do find it funny how far from the original concept some games are. Electric Bastionland looks cool, but to me, it feels like something in the same vein as '90s games like Over the Edge. The OSR returned to the roots but its already cycled all the way through RPG history again.
I could have sworn we had this exact topic in the last year or so.

As far as I'm concerned OSR has little value beyond meaning a game that is based around OD&D, BD&D or AD&D. Calling Traveller, RQ, CoC, HERO, GURPS etc (all of which are 30+ years old) renders any blanket grouping kind of pointless. yeah they are old, but they share little more than age.

Traveller has developed its own collection of inspired by rule sets, RQ / CoC / BRP has developed into its own subgenre of d100 games. I see no value in expanding the OSR term to them.
That brings up another point why I tend to see OSR as primarily a D&D thing. In its early days, it was driven by the feeling that 3E/Pathfinder and 4E were no longer the same game that people had started with. I think exploration of older games was an inevitability of PDFs and POD making them so accessible, but it was the release of 4E that really lit the fire that made it a movement.
 

Voros

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Defining the OSR got boring about 5 years ao. I'm all for games outside the B/X/AD&D world getting the same treatment of going back to basics and trying new things, but generally skeptical that most of the time when someone claims that their product that has zero compatibility, doesn't share any design principals, and isn't being discussed in any OSR communities, is suddenly OSR, I smell marketing, and it stinks.
I think the OSR has gotten to the point where punk rock did a long time ago, it used to be the disruptive innovator but now it is the new orthodoxy and we need something new to come along and disrupt all its assumptions and groupthink.

Not that there won't be a lots of good-to-great OSR material long into the future but to think that the future of rpgs will just be 'D&D but different' isn't exactly inspiring in the long-run to me.

I love D&D but trying to make D&D versions of every genre is piss-poor game design in my opinion, was already tried and failed numerous times in the hobby (back when D&D first appeared, then the d20 fiasco, etc.). I like too many other games (CoC, Risus, etc.) to want to just play variations on D&D forever.

I don't personally buy the idea of re-defining other old games or games supposedly 'inspired' by them (like Mothership) as OSR unless we're going to redefine it to 'games I like' which is pretty meaningless, although I guess most attempts at defining things too strictly are ultimately pretty boring and meaningless.
 

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I don't personally buy the idea of re-defining other old games or games supposedly 'inspired' by them (like Mothership) as OSR unless we're going to redefine it to games I like' which is pretty meaningless, although I guess most attempts at defining things too strictly are ultimately pretty boring and meaningless.
It's worth mentioning that Mothership doesn't tag itself as OSR on DriveThru. When I played it, the game it most reminded me of was Unknown Armies.
 
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