Being in the Main the Mouth of Olde House Rules

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

On Gaming Conservative...

Today Venger Satanis posted about why the OSR veers conservative.  He admits it’s a generalization (a good call on his part); and I see his point.  In short, he proposes that OSR fans prefer a laissez-faire game where the players are left to succeed or fail in a largely indifferent world, whereas modern (read: younger) players prefer a more secure, balanced, and fair experience where they’ll eventually get what they want.  Fair enough, although I suspect this has more to do with the average age of each faction and the fact that modern gaming is an industry with every reason to write more rules so they can sell ‘em…

And it occurs to me that games shouldn’t necessarily say anything about how we approach our real lives, which remain stubbornly devoid of elves.  That said, Venger's post reminds me that I’m a centrist (in gaming and real-life) and definitely a capitalistic GM.

So first off, I'm a retired military officer.  To some, that means I'm a stodgy conservative who thinks The Constitution was hand-written by Jesus himself, who then used it to clean his modified AR-15 while wearing a DON'T TREAD ON ME t-shirt.  Um, not quite.  I'm an active secular humanist (although I avoid the subject here), with at least some of the political leanings to go with it.  I’m also a retired meteorologist who accepts that anthropomorphic climate change is happening and bears attention.  Rush Limbaugh would disagree.

I strongly believe in capitalism (a great invention), but don’t for a minute think that the oligarchs wouldn’t happily poison the well if they could get away with it.  I think we need to advocate for the change we want, but also need to see the world for what it is right now, which means lots of hard work and personal sacrifice to achieve our goals, assuming we ever do, because life in itself owes us nothing.  Call me your basic political centrist.

But gaming is different.  The stakes certainly are; and the experiences we want in our games are (and probably should be) far removed from our best political path forward.  In the very least, gaming demands a level of abstraction nowhere present in reality, and the idea that the old school was devoid of balance and a sense of fair play is only half right.  No one would force a first-level party through Tomb of Horrors.  It’s meant for a stronger group.  Moreover, TSR’s packaged modules were highlighting party size and level requirements as early as the 80s, a clear nod to fairness.  Gygax warned against Monty Haul and killer dungeons early and often in the name of fairness and game balance because these things matter...

Hell, OD&D suggested that dungeon levels should correspond to the strength of their occupants, such that players could gauge the risk and act accordingly.  Stick to the upper levels and you’ll most likely survive, but with less to show for it.  Brave the depths and violent death awaits; but if played well, glory is yours!  On the surface this sounds like the laissez-faire, life-isn’t-fair approach the OSR allegedly endorses.  But there’s also a sense of balance and fairness written into the rules.  Real life sucks, our play shouldn't have to.

Me, I’m a capitalistic GM.  I supply the product (an adventure) and the players provide the characters (the demand side of things).  They direct this market with their actions and preferences.  Sure, I make it clear what kind of game I’m running and lose players in the process; but I also take the time to ask them what their characters hope to achieve and make an effort to insert opportunities into the campaign if they’re willing to work for them.  This is decidedly centrist, and quite possibly more conservative than what most think when they contemplate the OSR.  If the goal of gaming isn’t to have fun then I don’t know what it could possibly be - and fun absolutely demands a departure from the coarseness of reality...


  1. Would Story games with everyone having an equal role be a functioning communism of sorts? Or a peaceful anarchy? Or can any labels really apply to such a small group.

  2. I think "conservative" in this instance applies to the view of the game world. In the "liberal" view of games, everyone is equal, balance is paramount, and the PCs won't come up against something they can't handle (the challenge level or whatever you want to call it).

    In old-school games (i.e. conservative), the world is presented as is. Characters are not balanced against each other, but against the world (a fighter and a mage both have different roles, but cannot take over the other's role). The world exists, now strive against it as best you can. There is no predetermined ending, and there will be places you won't be able to get through, either because of bad luck or bad decisions.

    I may also argue that conservative gaming is "here's your 1st level character - go forth" while a more liberal approach would be "here's a 1st level character that you can change when you get tired of it and your choices today won't matter tomorrow because there's wealth by level and you can add another class and I promise you won't fight a dragon until it's level-appropriate to do so."

    I don't have enough experience to say if there's a relation between someone's political views and their preference of game system. I suspect not, although there is a part of me that relishes the fact that as children, we didn't need rules to play make believe, and thus we're all born Libertarians.

    1. I agree that was probably the intent. I didn't miss the point so much as I was making a lame joke based on the premise.

      I once saw someone try to define D&D vs RuneQuest and other games in a somewhat similar way. Interesting thought experiment but I think there are too many varieties of gamers and too many different ways they entered the hobby for any truisms to have resulted.

  3. No worries. I deal with real politics enough that I don't particularly want it in my gaming.

    I have noticed that the teenagers I'm running an OSR game for are very . . . unprepared for an OSR game. "Is there anything weird about the room?" is a common question, and apparently their 5e DM asks for a search/perception roll after that question. "Tell me what you want to examine" leaves them speechless.

    Eh, kids today. I'll teach 'em right, make sure they don't turn into story-gamers, or worse, fall down the rabbit hole to CCGs . . . .

  4. I'm not sure the OSR veers so much towards "conservative," but newer gaming certainly veers more progressive, and I agree with you that this is largely a result of demographic and designers (and Hasbro/WotC) deliberately marketing to that demographic.

    The oldsters seem (to me) to be all over the board.

  5. If I had a nickle for every time a GM sent a 1st level party into the Tomb of Horrors, I wouldn't need capitalism.

    This may surprise some, but I, too, am a political centrist... and a gaming centrist, as well. I'm neither an overly strict Darwinian overlord nor a give-away-the-farm marshmallow, but something in-between. That balance is important, I think.

    1. Lol! I'd almost pay good money to play Tomb of Horrors as a first-level character just to see how quickly (and gruesomely) I died...

    2. That could be our business model... let's stream it!

  6. The OSR doesn't veer conservative. There are just a few very loud conservatives arguing against a changing demographic they fear.

    I think a conservative could never really like old school games based heavily on die rolling. Just admitting they had good luck on a roll would destroy their entire worldview. Fairness is extremely important to them, and old school games aren't fair.

  7. I don't see how games aren't politically bias especially when it comes to intersectionality at the very least as well as movies.

    This decade they're plenty of games that are overtly liberal or just progressive. Such as Life is Strange 2. Two children want to move past Trump's Wall into Mexico! And they're stereotypical "racist" police officers, and gun-ho military who shot his brother. What about Wolfenstein the recent one with two female teen leads. Or the lesbian kissing lead from The last of us 2 (which is the exception since the first was a brilliant game). There is also Far Cry New dawn. I see that when it comes to customisation now of any military game half of them and definitely *now* atleast one character are 100 ib females.

    In regard to RPG, there is a website which links data which shows that RPGs are used to escape the socio-cultural environment of real life to escape into a new world where such things don't exist. I think most games have a political element too them, or have been linked to various fads which have their own political outlook.