Monday, December 05, 2022

the OSR as a subject of scholarly inquiry

The other day I was wondering how Nicholas Mizer was doing. He played the elf Celumir the Bald (I hope I'm getting that PC name right) in my first FLAILSNAILS campaign, the one set in Wessex. If I am recalling correctly, Nicholas was the one who solved the Mystery of the Blue Lobster.

Around that time he did a crowdfunding campaign to raise some funds for his PhD research on tabletop RPGs. Out of the blue last week it occurred to me that I wanted to see what had come of that.

First of all, I found his dissertation. So congrats on finishing, Dr. Mizer. Also, he has a book out now, which I am going to try to convince my school library to buy.

I also found a couple academic articles Nicholas authored and a book review that was interesting to me professionally (Turns out there's an edited volume with chapters on RPGs and education. I smell a new faculty workshop in my future.). I forwarded a co-authored piece on an economic game to my buddy who teaches behavioral economics. He was pretty stoked, as the piece had been published in an anthropology journal and he had not seen it before.

Nicholas's 2014 article "The Paladin Ethic and the Spirit of Dungeoneering", published in The Journal of Popular Culture, is a really compelling piece. The conclusion contains what I suspect is one of the first mentions of the Old School Renaissance in an academic journal. 

Now I was down the rabbit hole. I decided I needed to know if there were any more recent articles about the OSR. I found one, "Old School Renaissance as a Style of Play" by Tommi Brander of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. The analysis is a little bit water-is-wet to anyone who actually plays old school style, but water-is-wet research is important. Playing isn't the same as documenting for the outside world, after all.

Anyhoo, I thought you all would be interested in who from the scene is cited in the article:

Alexander, JasonJaquaying the Dungeon at the Alexandrian
Baker, D. Vincent
The Seclusium of Orphone of the Three Visions (cited as example of a failure to understand OSR as a style of play)
Blacky the Blackball
Dark Dungeons (Am I right in thinking this is a Rules Cyclopedia retroclone?)
Bowman, David
article on the entourage approach in Open Game Table anthology
Brockie, Dave and Pittman, JoeTowers Two
Cone, JasonPhilotomy's Musings (cited multiple times)
Crawford, KevinGodbound
Finch, Matthew J.Old School Primer (multiple citations)
Kemp, Arnold
Goblinpunch post on "rulings not rules" being insufficient
Lynch, Brycetenfootpole review of Seclusium
Maliszewski, James2009 escapist article on the history of the OSR
Maliszewski, James"Time in the old school campaign" from Grognardia
McDowell, ChrisInto the Odd
seminal dungeon mapping post from ENworld & dragonsfoot
Milton, Ben; Lumpkin, Steven et al.Principia Apocrypha (cited multiple times)
Princess, Scrap and Stuart, PatrickFire on the Velvet Horizon
Raggi, James Edward IV
Guide to Adventure Writing in Open Game Table anthology
Raggi, James Edward IV
Lamentations referee book (the old one from the boxed set)(cited multiple times in article)'
Raggi, James Edward IVLamentations player's hardback
Schroder, Alex
blogpost comparing Seclusium to Moldvay dungeon stocking
Strejcek, BrendanNecropraxis article on the R in OSR
Strejcek, BrendanNecropraxis article on OSR Attributes
Strejcek, BrendanNecropraxis article on his OSR survey
Strejcek, BrendanNecropraxis article on OSR survey participation
Stukey, Randall S.
Microlite 75 (cited as a possible alternative approach to OSR play)
Tuovinen, Eero
multiple forum threads about D&D (cited multiple times)

There are some pretty rad people on the list above. I am, of course, jealous. These are only the old schoolers mentioned in the piece. (Also appearing: Vincent Baker.) 

What is a little more alarming is the amount of GNS in the article. John H. Kim, Brian Gleichman, Ben Lehman, and especially Ron Edwards are cited in this regards. Brander uses the threefold model to analyze old school play, which is totally legit to me. What concerns me is that a non-specialist, even an academic who studies mainstream D&D for a living, could easily conclude from this article that GNS and the associated people are part of the OSR.

But to circle back the the beginning: nice work, Nicholas!


  1. While working on a paper on gamification of the EFL classroom, I ordered a couple of scholarly books related to RPGs along with the stuff on gamification. Tangential to my study, but looked like legit parts of my research. And I am considering setting up a study of the effects of RPG play on language learning, so may actually be useful somewhere down the road. My current project has nothing to do with games/gamification, but I may see if I can get Dr. Mizer's book and charge it to the research fund...

    Thanks for the post, Jeff!

    1. I've done some gamification in the classroom and I have come around to this opinion: asking students to build games that express the key concepts of the course is infinitely more interesting and more fun that monkeying with the internal economy of the course. I actually lean more towards ungrading nowadays.

    2. My gamification was pretty underwhelming. After trying it, the typical methods (BPL) just seem like Behaviorism in a shiny new suit. Getting students to gamify on their own sounds more promising.

  2. 1. Lied about sexual abuse. Offered 3 cents a word for a freelance gig--lied about it on RPGpub. I have the receipts.
    2. Lied about sexual abuse. Portrayed contacting him privately and trying to solve problems like an adult as some weird machiavellian abuse strategy.
    3. I don't know
    4. I don't know
    5. Talked about them both last night at his ex-girlfriend's memorial service.
    6. I don't know
    7. Lowkey harassed me, but quiet about it. I recommended a magazine interview him anyway
    8. Threw me under the bus very apologetically.
    9. Lied about abuse.
    10. Studiously neutral.
    11. I tried to help him as much as I could when he was going through it. Admits to being a coward.
    12. ditto
    13. Lied about sexual abuse. Changed the rules of the OSR discord to allow lying. Admitted it.
    14. I don't know.
    15. Lied about sexual abuse.
    16. Lied about sexual abuse, lied about a bunch of other shit. Betrayed the people who tried to help them most.
    17. A wreck--and treated like shit by at least half the people on this list--after publishing them.
    18. ditto
    19. ditto
    20. I can't remember
    21. Admitted that his friends probably lied about sexual abuse but claimed to not understand why that was bad
    22. Ditto
    23. Ditto
    24. Ditto
    25. I don't know.
    16. One of the first people to ever harass us--admitted that he attacked people on social media to help his brand.
    Somebody will probably put a comment after this saying Im just jealous but they won't really address all the shitty things many of these people did.
    Aside from Scrap--no women? Where's Natalie Oddyssey's essay on combat for example? Or anything from Stacy? Or Shoe Skogen's comparison of Monsterhearts to her OSR game? And where are the people of color? Zedeck and Humza both lied about abuse but they both write better than Towers Two.
    And--oh--Where the fuck is Jeff Rients?
    "All Hail Max?" is a key text.
    If this is how what we built will be remembered then that kinds sucks.

    1. all receipts available upon request.

    2. Anonymous8:10 AM

      Jaysus. It seems like every time we talk I learn of new people who I previously respected who jumped at the chance to do you dirty.

    3. That was me, forgetting how the commenting thingy worked.

    4. I forget it's easier for me to keep track since I'm legally obligated to.

    5. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    6. Sorry, Kent. I don't need that kind of language on my blog.

    7. Thanks for cleaning up, Jeff.
      And that was what I thought when I saw the list. No Jeff Rients, no Zak, no Maze of Blue Medusa. Lots of abusers. Ridiculous.

    8. Sounds like an academic needs to publish a new article. There is kind of the technical/legal side related to OSR: T$R copyright, 3rd edition OGL/SRD, 4th edition/GSL, and retro-clones. The analytical aspect from the style of play attributed to the earlier T$R editions (OD&D, AD&D). And the historical events really from when T$R yanked the rug out from under 3rd party AD&D publishers in the early 1980s & their Satanic Panic, up through the resurgence/collapse of 3rd party 3rd edition publishers in the early aughts, OSR retro-clones and related OSR independent small press publishers in the late-aughts up through 5th edition and other "mainstream" co-opts and eventually our modern times, jeez, now 40 years later. Hmmmm, perhaps an article would not be sufficient space.

    9. Zak, I'm interested in the receipts but if it comes down to an interrogatory discussion I probably don't have enough information about most of the people listed or about your accusations to ask the right questions. I'm guessing that, given your situation, you might have something along the lines of a form letter for this? If so, I'm johndoe dot RBB at gmail dot com and would appreciate it.

    10. Hey John--I don't have a public form letter listing every single abuser and all their receipts since: 1--that's hundreds of people at this point and 2--Any time I do anything like that, the harassers claim I am making some sort of Nixonian enemies list rather than just doing the same thing every other harassment victim does when they make a twitter blocklist: trying to protect people from them.
      So, it will take a second to find the proof on any specific person.
      However I'd be happy to do the work to retrieve the screenshots or links on all these folks --or, less work for me, on specific people you are worried about.
      My email is zakzsmith AT hawtmayle dawt calm and since I don't know you I'd much prefer you email me first.
      And, before you do that it's probably worth noting most of them were totally open about it. If you check their social media you can find them trashing me all the time.

    11. Thanks Zak - I'll do some digging by myself before bothering you, but I may contact you soon.

  3. Yes, Dark Dungeons is a clone of the Rules Cyclopedia. The main differences are that a lot of the optional RC rules are considered part of the core DD ruleset, there is more Immortals content in DD, and DD has black powder weapons.