The British Old School Revival (B-OSR)

Black Leaf

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Found this blog which I thought was interesting.

I'm sure there will be some contention over the name ;) but I'm more interested in the attempts to map the specific British tradition of eighties RPGs and how it differentiates from the American rpg scene.

I do agree with what most of the author says.

Influences

– Early White Dwarf magazine (issues 1-100)
– Games Workshop (and Citadel Miniatures)
– Fighting Fantasy gamebooks (and, to a lesser extent, Lone Wolf)
– British comics (principally 2000 A.D., but also older fare such as Action)
– British fantasy art (e.g. Russ Nicholson, John Blanche, Iain McCaig, etc.)
– British comedy (e.g. Monty Python, Blackadder, The Young Ones, etc.)
– J.R.R. Tolkien (of course)
– Michael Moorcock (e.g. Elric, Hawkmoon, Corum, etc.)
– British heavy metal (Iron Maiden being very influential, though I much prefer the doom-y sound of early Sabbath)

I'd add British prog to that list (it was rare to have a group without some Floyd and Marillion fans) and you can make an argument for British punk. The Sealed Knot as well probably. In my group there was a definite crossover with the amateur drama kids but I don't know if that was a very specific local thing.l But that's pretty comprehensive

Important RPGS

– Warhammer Fantasy Role-Play (1986)
– Dragon Warriors (1985)
– Advanced Fighting Fantasy (1989)
– Maelstrom (1984)
– Heroes (1979)

Only one of these I don't know is Heroes. Only game I'd maybe add is Golden Heroes (1984). It was the first serious foray into non fantasy for many of us.

Things that make the B-OSR distinct from the A-OSR

– Historicity / Urbanism.
– Class.
– Grimdark.
– Comedy / Satire.

He goes into a lot more detail on this on the blog. I'm not c&ping it here because it seems politer to encourage people to read the original then just reproduce it here. This all seems very accurate though. I've talked before of a focus about how British games tend to have more of a focus on social class and how the take on the nobility is frequently cynical. (To the extent where the Lone Wolf world stands out to me because of how bright eyed its depiction of feudal rule is).

Obviously, these are generalizations. American RPGs certainly can have comedic and satirical elements. But I think it's fair to say that the satire in Paranoia is very American in feel and the satire in WFRP is equally British.

One thing I think he may miss in the same way fish don't notice water is how much British RPGs (and the RPG scene in general) tapped into a tradition of British eccentricity; morris dancers, trainspotters, novelty singles etc. I actually think that's a major factor in us not having gone through the Satanic Panic in the same way. It also may partially explain why Runequest did pretty well over here, as well as the obvious fact that Games Workshop pushed it heavily.

What do people think? Does he match up with your experience of British RPGs? Is there enough notable differences with the old school American RPGs to treat the two scenes as related but different? Did anyone get though the Maze of Zagor without cheating?
 
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Necrozius

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Ooooh this is appealing. I recently acquired 4 issues of White Dwarf from that era (27, 34, 98 and an issue called “The Best of White Dwarf Scenarios”). I am truly in love with them.

A great time in gaming over in Britain, for sure.
 

dokel

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I owned a copy of Heroes. I don't remember much about the rules but I do remember that it definitely ticked the grimdark box.

I feel that somehow the British gaming scene had/has a slightly different relationship with wargaming than the American scene. I have the impression that, in America, D&D left its wargaming roots behind fairly quickly and became its own thing. Sure, the evidence was still there in its DNA but it evolved into something else that had a much wider appeal. In the UK wargaming seemed to hang around like a vestigial tail (yeah I'm gonna flog this analogy to death). I think this had a lot to do with Games Workshop. I remember the GW shop in Birmingham where I grew up devoted a lot of floorspace to minis (and paints, brushes etc). Citadel was a big part of their business model and they really seemed to promote the collecting and painting of minis as being a big part of the hobby. And then of course they eventually switched focus to selling their own miniature wargaming lines.
 
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Voros

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Troika seems the most British OSR game, believe it is even based on Advanced Fighting Fantasy. I believe most of those behind the Melsonian Art Council are British, as the very name of the press suggests.

Despite not being Brits I find the Hydra Cooperative crew to be pretty heavily influenced by Moorcock and WFRP in the feel of their worlds.

PS. I see Daniel Sell from Troika commented on that very blog post.
 
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Moonglum

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The first three listed are relatively familiar to current gamers outside of Britain, but the last two are not. What can you tell us about Maelstrom and Heroes?
 

Voros

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The first three listed are relatively familiar to current gamers outside of Britain, but the last two are not. What can you tell us about Maelstrom and Heroes?
We talk a bit about Maelstrom here.
 

dbm

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This is a subject close to my heart, as this shelf might hint:
2FAB9620-1853-452B-B971-36BCA7B4484A.jpeg

Dragon Warriors is one of my all-time favourite RPGs. I don’t think there is ‘true’ B-OSR as there aren’t new games being produced which mimic or seek to capitalise on the design principles of the original games, and I would see that as a key feature of the OSR movement.

But there is definitely a British aesthetic that separates gems like Dragon Warriors or the original editions of WFRP from their US forbears. There are some fairly well discussed theories around how the British attitude to class and assumptions of right to lead that were shattered in the Great War, but that is pretty close to politics so I will say no more.

As @Black Leaf suggest, I think urbanisation verses frontiersman concepts is probably a less contentious factor. The UK is extremely densely populated by comparison to the US and there aren’t huge swathes of England* where you would be far from urban settlement.

* Scotland is different in this regard.
 

Black Leaf

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The first three listed are relatively familiar to current gamers outside of Britain, but the last two are not. What can you tell us about Maelstrom and Heroes?
I don't know Heroes, but Maelstrom was a cunning attempt to get a tudor RPG published by a mainstream publisher. Very historical, a bit clunky at times. Gave no indication of how to actually run the thing. The new Arion Games edition irons out those issues while keeping the feel of the original and I highly recommend it.

dbm said:
But there is definitely a British aesthetic that separates gems like Dragon Warriors or the original editions of WFRP from their US forbears. There are some fairly well discussed theories around how the British attitude to class and assumptions of right to lead that were shattered in the Great War, but that is pretty close to politics so I will say no more.
I will merely suggest that those interested in the subject read Charley's War by Pat Mills and leave it there.
 

Ghost Whistler

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Does Rogue Trader count? After all you kinda played a role and there was a GM.
 

Black Leaf

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Does Rogue Trader count? After all you kinda played a role and there was a GM.
The RPG? It would do (Warhammer world, Games Workshop, Grimdark) except it's too late for the period we're talking about. But certainly I think you can argue it's a direct descendent.
 

Necrozius

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Needless to say Fighting Fantasy books were my first pen n' paper RPG experiences, technically.

Sword of the Samurai was my first love. I'll never forget her.
 

Simlasa

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Maybe I'm a bit of an anglophile but I've always had a general preference for fantasy and horror and whatnot from across the pond. There's usually less of the U.S. machismo thing going on... and more humor juxtaposed against genuinely grisly content... a fatalism that appeals to me.
 

sharps54

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Maybe I'm a bit of an anglophile but I've always had a general preference for fantasy and horror and whatnot from across the pond. There's usually less of the U.S. machismo thing going on... and more humor juxtaposed against genuinely grisly content... a fatalism that appeals to me.
If you enjoy podcasts there are a number of good ones from across the pond, perhaps the one most relevant to this thread (reminiscing about British gaming back in the day) is The Grognard Files.
 

Nobby-W

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I owned a copy of Heroes. I don't remember much about the rules but I do remember that it definitely ticked the grimdark box.

I feel that somehow the British gaming scene had/has a slightly different relationship with wargaming than the American scene. I have the impression that, in America, D&D left its wargaming roots behind fairly quickly and became its own thing. Sure, the evidence was still there in its DNA but it evolved into something else that had a much wider appeal. In the UK wargaming seemed to hang around like a vestigial tail (yeah I'm gonna flog this analogy to death). I think this had a lot to do with Games Workshop. I remember the GW shop in Birmingham where I grew up devoted a lot of floorspace to minis (and paints, brushes etc). Citadel was a big part of their business model and they really seemed to promote the collecting and painting of minis as being a big part of the hobby. And then of course they eventually switched focus to selling their own miniature wargaming lines.
Nerdy pursuits are much bigger in the UK than anywhere else I've seen - you get surprisingly big wargaming tournaments in really out-of-the-way places and are a lot more traditional 'nerd' pursuits like model railways or historical re-enactment societies. Only in the UK could a company selling wargaming miniatures establish a huge chain of high street shops in the way Games Workshop has. In the 15 years or so I've lived here I don't think I've ever lived more than a few miles away from the nearest GW shop. If he-who-shall-not-be-named ever calls upon me to to sacrifice a virgin it's not going to be hard to find one.

I think I'll leave the rest up to the fabulous Reginald D Hunter.



 
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dokel

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Nerdy pursuits are much bigger in the UK than anywhere else I've seen - you get surprisingly big wargaming tournaments in really out-of-the-way places and are a lot more traditional 'nerd' pursuits like model railways or historical re-enactment societies. Only in the UK could a company selling wargaming miniatures establish a huge chain of high street shops in the way Games Workshop has. In the 15 years or so I've lived here I don't think I've ever lived more than a few miles away from the nearest GW shop. If he-who-shall-not-be-named ever calls upon me to to sacrifice a virgin it's not going to be hard to find one.
The overlap of nerdy pursuits was definitely a thing. In my early teens I would go into the GW shop to check out the new releases and then head into the very nearby Beatties model shop to look for new Airfix and Subbuteo stuff (they also stocked Hornby but, c'mon, no one's that much of a nerd :tongue: ).
 

Gringnr

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I always heard that Golden Heroes was a well-liked British game. I would definitely consider it OSR. But it definitely isn't grimdark. I can't speak for any actual British Persons, bit I'd be curious to know how GH fits in with the above theory.
 

Nobby-W

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Was Traveller a big hit in the UK RPG scene?
I don't know about the UK at the time but i think so. In Christchurch, New Zealand where I grew up it was surprisingly big. There was only one distributor and about three shops that sold role playing games and most of what was on the shelves was either D&D or Traveller with other stuff only being sporadically available. This situation continued until well into the 1980s. Due to the way book distribution worked in that part of the world the condition was pretty much the same across the whole of NZ. There were a lot of NZ folks active on the TML and its descendants and it produced more than its share of super fans.

Having said that, when i started trying to find games in the UK I couldn't find enough folks wanting to play Traveller to run a game in a location that I could reasonably drive to after work. I have, however found a pretty good group playing D&D so I'm mostly playing that these days.
 

Gringnr

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I remember there being quite a bit of (mostly very good) Traveller stuff in White Dwarf. Backdrop of Stars by Andy Slack comes immediately to mind.

And here's a pdf of all his WD Traveller articles.
White Dwarf 70-somethibg had the awesome Bounty Hunter chargen article.
 

Black Leaf

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I always heard that Golden Heroes was a well-liked British game. I would definitely consider it OSR. But it definitely isn't grimdark. I can't speak for any actual British Persons, bit I'd be curious to know how GH fits in with the above theory.
Yeah, I think GH is probably the exception that proves the rule on that one. It was very silver age in feel.
 
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Blimey, what a great discussion! Lot's of really interesting insights, cheers everyone.

I just had a comment on my blog about Golden Heroes, which I assume came from someone following along the discussion here. If it's ok, I'll copy my response to that below (and take what I'm saying with a pinch of salt; this is mostly guesswork, not the result of meticulous research).

"Excellent question! I was reading up on Golden Heroes just the other day, alongside a couple of other old-school British RPGs I want to blog about: Fantasy Wargaming (1981) and Bifrost (1977-1982).

The thing is, I can’t really talk about Golden Heroes without talking about British comics. Back in the 1970s and 1980s, Britain had a thriving comic industry. However, with a couple of notable exceptions (e.g. 2000 A.D., Viz, the Beano, etc.) the entire industry was basically wiped out by the late 1990s, unlike Franco-Belgian comics (“Bandes Dessinées”, or BDs) which were considered the “ninth art” and received government support.

Now, British comics didn’t really do superheroes. I’m exaggerating (see Marvelman or Captain Britain, for example), but not by much. Many of the superhero comics in the UK in the 1970s / 80s were stuff published for the British market by American companies. There certainly were homegrown British superhero comics that had a more “grimdark” edge (see V for Vendetta, originally published in Warrior in 1982, for example).

Still, I guess my point is that Golden Heroes is arguably emulating American comics and superheroes. If you want to see an RPG from the period that more faithfully emulated British comics, then Judge Dredd: The Role-Playing Game (1985) is a better bet (and is definitely grim and gritty).

And, of course, there will be plenty of exceptions to the idea that British old-school games are “grimmer” than their US counterparts. It could also just be that Golden Heroes is an exception to the trend."
 

Gringnr

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Blimey, what a great discussion! Lot's of really interesting insights, cheers everyone.

I just had a comment on my blog about Golden Heroes, which I assume came from someone following along the discussion here. If it's ok, I'll copy my response to that below (and take what I'm saying with a pinch of salt; this is mostly guesswork, not the result of meticulous research).

"Excellent question! I was reading up on Golden Heroes just the other day, alongside a couple of other old-school British RPGs I want to blog about: Fantasy Wargaming (1981) and Bifrost (1977-1982).

The thing is, I can’t really talk about Golden Heroes without talking about British comics. Back in the 1970s and 1980s, Britain had a thriving comic industry. However, with a couple of notable exceptions (e.g. 2000 A.D., Viz, the Beano, etc.) the entire industry was basically wiped out by the late 1990s, unlike Franco-Belgian comics (“Bandes Dessinées”, or BDs) which were considered the “ninth art” and received government support.

Now, British comics didn’t really do superheroes. I’m exaggerating (see Marvelman or Captain Britain, for example), but not by much. Many of the superhero comics in the UK in the 1970s / 80s were stuff published for the British market by American companies. There certainly were homegrown British superhero comics that had a more “grimdark” edge (see V for Vendetta, originally published in Warrior in 1982, for example).

Still, I guess my point is that Golden Heroes is arguably emulating American comics and superheroes. If you want to see an RPG from the period that more faithfully emulated British comics, then Judge Dredd: The Role-Playing Game (1985) is a better bet (and is definitely grim and gritty).

And, of course, there will be plenty of exceptions to the idea that British old-school games are “grimmer” than their US counterparts. It could also just be that Golden Heroes is an exception to the trend."

That was me, thanks for the response! Very insightful. I wondered why the authors of GH were so enamored of American comics.
 

dokel

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Wasn't Golden Heroes originally developed as a system for a a planned Marvel rpg... but GW lost out on the license to TSR?

Edit: possibly why it has a different 'vibe'.
 

Gringnr

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Wasn't Golden Heroes originally developed as a system for a a planned Marvel rpg... but GW lost out on the license to TSR?

Edit: possibly why it has a different 'vibe'.
GH was self-published first. The intro to the self-published version specifically referenced American comics books. But when GW picked it up, they were originally angling for a Marvel license.
 

Trippy

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The thing to note is that in the early 1980s, almost all gamers were influenced by what Games Workshop would import. The main games were D&D/AD&D, Traveller and RuneQuest, with Call of Cthulhu also adding a splash. Games like Champions, however, were less well known than they were in America.
 

Black Leaf

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If we're lucky Simonpaulburley (sometimes of this parish) will chip in on this one. I believe he may be something of an expert on Golden Heroes. ;)
 

dokel

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The thing to note is that in the early 1980s, almost all gamers were influenced by what Games Workshop would import. The main games were D&D/AD&D, Traveller and RuneQuest, with Call of Cthulhu also adding a splash. Games like Champions, however, were less well known than they were in America.
Yes, to clarify the most readily available (US) games were the ones that were actually published under license in the UK by GW. Other games were imported which typically meant they were more expensive. I seem to remember umming and ahhing over the Champions 2nd Edition box because of the price.
 

AsenRG

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I'm no Brit, but when I read the title, I thought immediately of Warhammer with the feel of "a PC struggling with a mugger in the mud and blood of the gutter, while your social betters point with a finger and laugh themselves silly". So, it seems I'm getting it, at least in part:smile:?

For the record, many of my games borrow some elements from the above, though my players really prefer when I instead resort to what I've been calling "French* old-school":wink:.

*You know, nobleborn duellists fighting on a rooftop, trying to resolve a matter of honor, probably pertaining to a lady, before the stupid, clumsy city watchmen approach (with a ladder) to capture them":grin:? Yeah, that kind of old school!
 
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3rik

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The new Arion Games edition irons out those issues while keeping the feel of the original and I highly recommend it.
I know Arion Games adapted the game to other settings/time periods: Maelstrom Domesday (Anglo-Norman England), Maelstrom Gothic (early Victorian England) and Maelstrom Rome (Roman Empire, 50AD). But I thought (Tudor England) Maelstrom was merely a reprint of the original, not a re-edit.
 

Black Leaf

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I know Arion Games adapted the game to other settings/time periods: Maelstrom Domesday (Anglo-Norman England), Maelstrom Gothic (early Victorian England) and Maelstrom Rome (Roman Empire, 50AD). But I thought (Tudor England) Maelstrom was merely a reprint of the original, not a re-edit.
The corebook is a reprint but the supplements are new. In particular, the Maelstrom Companion goes some way to balancing the mechanics, plus some stuff like extra careers etc.
 

soltakss

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There were some good fanzines out back in the day. I'm a RQ/Glorantha fan and we had the irreverent Pavic Tales and the more serious Tales of the Reaching Moon, which became an international thing bit started off as a Brit Fanzine provisionally titled Son of Wyrms Footnotes, as I recall.
 

Mankcam

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I'm Australian and my introduction to rpgs was initially through the British fantasy gamebooks Fighting Fantasy and Lone Wolf during the early 1980s. This would have been not long before my high school days

Fighting Fantasy was also released as a stand-alone rpg in the mid 1980s (not to be confused with the better realised version called Advanced Fighting Fantasy Dungeoneer which came out in 1989 - now republished as Advanced Fighting Fantasy by Arion Games). I was nominated to be our GM, as I already had the biggest collection of FF gamebooks, so I set out on the GM path running the original FF rpg.

After about a year I started looking around for rpgs with more nuts & bolts, and like many people, I had my eye on the D&D box sets (B/X and BECMI). However the 'santanic panic' news from the USA erupted, and parents were concerned. Our school banned D&D until further notice.

This led to my cousin suggesting I buy RuneQuest instead, which I was able to play to my heart's content, as only D&D was banned.
We also got into Call of Cthulhu, and we always chuckled that it was strange that this wasn't under scrutiny, yet D&D was.
(As an aside, I'm glad I got into RQ2 and RQ3, as by the time we got around to playing TSR D&D a couple of years later, we were struck by how illogical the rules seemed in comparison to RQ at the time).

Although RQ was American, it kind of felt british in some ways. It featured in White Dwarf magazines quite a bit and it had a decent following in the UK, with it's own fanzines coming out of the UK scene (see Soltakss's reference above).

I had plenty of White Dwarf magazines, so the UK rpg scene was in my mind at the time.

I always retained an affection for the UK rpgs.
Dragon Warriors was fun, and Warhammer Fantasy Role Play was great, we were all quite impressed with these (especially WFRP).

The fantasy artwork in many of the UK fantasy rpgs was really evocative, and sums up classic fantasy flavour for me much more than any of the TSR products ever did.
So when I think of old-school rpgs, it is the UK rpgs which often come to my mind.
 
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Black Leaf

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That influence is there but a more direct connection would be with sf fandom who were among the first to creates fanzines.
That's fair. I hadn't come across that but I think that's a sign that being a schoolboy in eighties rpgs was very different than being a bit older.

The aforementioned Traveller is a good example of that. I didn't know anyone who played it, but I get the impression that's because it was more of a university student game than one played by 14 year olds.
 

Loz

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Don't forget 'Dragonroar' - the British RPG that introduced the C-90 cassette tape to the roleplaying toolbox, and featured the War Hedgehog among its foes...


Great stuff. Never played it, but I strangely wish I had a copy.
 
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Don't forget 'Dragonroar' - the British RPG that introduced the C-90 cassette tape to the roleplaying toolbox, and featured the War Hedgehog among its foes...


Great stuff. Never played it, but I strangely wish I had a copy.
Or the wonderfully named Steve Jackson's F.I.S.T. (Fantasy Interactive Scenarios by Telephone)

It was the world's first (and only?) “interactive telephone role-playing game”.

 
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