Category Archives: Community

Planning Hereafter

The Pluspocalypse draws nigh. What are we to do? Well, for my part at least, this is where the wind has been blowing.

In terms of social media, activity seems to be congealing around three platforms: Twitter, Discord, and Reddit. I occasionally check Mewe, mostly for the vibrant Necrotic Gnome community. I have updated my About page here with links to other online game-relevant presences, guises, and manifestations. I plan to keep this up to date. All have drawbacks, but the value of social platforms comes from critical mass of users and activity rather than features.

In terms of experience, Twitter seems to be closest to Google Plus, based on my experience over the past month or so—despite lacking any features approximating Google Plus collections, which is a substantial shortcoming. Two tricks helped Twitter work better for me: 1) turn off retweets from people that you want to keep following but that have interests aligning only partially with your own and 2) add people to an “inbox” list to use as your primary view. You can keep the membership of lists private to avoid hurting any feelings. I find the default Twitter feed algorithm unpleasant, but there are clients which present chronological feeds. I use Twitterific on iOS which is okay so far. I post pseudo-privately to Twitter, just like I did on Google Plus. Bonus: on Twitter, you get to see my Zelda: Breath of the Wild screen shots.

Discord has been building social momentum, especially following the social reconfigurations of last week. I have been checking in on Chris’s OSR Discord server most regularly. A highly balkanized set of smaller Discord servers also now exist, based around personalities, publishers, and particular games—Melsonia, Swordfish Islands, Hydra Collective, and Mothership, for example. I am unsure if there are direct links to any of those, but if you are interested, join the OSR server and ask around. Luka’s Stratometaship (WTF blog) and Ben’s Questing Beast (Questing Blog) Discords exist for patrons. This collection is far from comprehensive. There is less substantive discussion on Discord compared to Google Plus, but it does provide a way to keep up to date—perhaps too much up to date—with what everyone else is doing. Discord shares with Google Plus proximity to actual gaming, as it has feature supporting voice and video conferencing, and I see many people coordinating active games. Just keep in mind that Discord is the afterparty cocaine of social media. You end up wondering where the evening went with so little to show for it.

Reddit r/osr is okay and has lots of activity, but also—as with all of Reddit—has the downsides of moderated forums. The r/artpunk sub has potential but is small.

I am expanding the scope of this blog, though only ever so slightly. Observant readers may have noticed some recent additions to the list of blog post categories, including Bibliophilia, Moving Pictures, and Words. Bibliophilia and Moving Pictures should be self-explanatory. Words is for discussion of relevant non-game texts, such as novels, histories, and so forth. I have posted this sort of content here before, though unsystematically and infrequently. An example for Bibliophilia is a past review of Inventory v.1 (an illustrated chapbook of often wondrous gear by Sam Bosma). An example for Moving Pictures is a past review of Jupiter Ascending. I will continue to only cover media relevant in some way to tabletop roleplaying games, but there may be slightly more posts in this vein. It seems likely that scene blog content in general will increase. The tools I use in this area, apart from this blog itself, are Feedly for central feed management and Reeder for mobile feed reading (it can use Feedly as feed source). Jacob H. writes good things about Inoreader.

Friendly reminder: you may wish to download your past Google Plus activity using Google Takeout. Though you may never actually do anything with it, a few years down the line you may remember that some conversation you hosted had some useful insights. For me, it makes the most sense to take an archive of only the Plus-related data (which are Google+ +1s on websites, Google+ Circles, Google+ Communities, and Google+ Stream). I think this will only preserve content that you posted or managed, and so your comments on the posts of others will likely be absent.

OSR play behavior

(This is one part of an ongoing discussion of the 2018 OSR Survey results. See the table of contents at the bottom of this post for links to the other parts.)

Earlier, I reported the OSR ratings of various games (as in, level of agreement with the statement: I think the game ________ is OSR) and also which games respondents reported playing. As I noted in that post, these variables allowed me to score individual responses on degree of OSR play behavior. Respondents themselves, in aggregate, determined what OSR play behavior entails. In addition to being related to several other variables that you might expect (such as self-declared participation in the OSR, degree of identification with the OSR, and having bought an OSR product), degree of OSR play behavior also positively predicts blogging about tabletop roleplaying games generally and belief that the OSR welcomes diverse voices.

I came up with the idea of scoring respondents on OSR play behavior after designing the survey, so the set of games rated on OSR-ness differs slightly from the set of games respondents could indicate they were currently playing. However, there is a substantial overlap between the two sets. This set of overlapping games contributes to the OSR play behavior score. To create an OSR play score for each respondent, I calculated an average of play scores (playing = 1, not playing = missing value) weighted by game OSR rating, which ranges from 1 to 7. For example, a respondent that indicated playing Vampire: The Masquerade (OSR rating = 1.90) and B/X D&D (OSR rating = 6.14) would have an overall OSR play score of (1.90 + 6.14) / 2 = 4.02. One of the options for currently played games was Home-brew (OSR), which I decided should have an OSR game rating of 7. After all, what game could be more subjectively OSR than one the respondent categorized themselves as Home-brew (OSR)? I determined this scoring scheme prior to looking at any results.

1634 respondents reported currently playing some games for which I had OSR ratings, allowing me to score those responses on OSR play behavior. The mean rating of OSR play among these respondents was 4.41 (SD = 1.44, min = 1.75, max = 7). The distribution of this score was roughly uniform, though there were spikes around 2.87 (n = 198), which corresponds to respondents that reported only currently playing D&D 5E, around 4.93 (n = 64), which corresponds to respondents that reported playing D&D 5E + Home-brew (OSR), and around 7 (n = 96), which corresponds to respondents that reported only currently playing a Home-brew (OSR) game.

Each response gets an “OSR play behavior” score

This composite play score is obviously imperfect, as respondents indicated play dichotomously rather than by degree, the set of games available to select was incomplete, and the measurement of game OSR-ness was itself imprecise (though derived empirically from the beliefs of respondents). However, the relevant question is whether the rating captures some meaningful variation in degree of OSR play behavior rather than whether it perfectly describes each respondent’s play behavior.

Within sample, the OSR play behavior score has some predictive validity. For example, OSR participants have higher OSR play behavior scores (t(1630) = -18.13, p < .001, MOSR = 4.68, Mnon-OSR = 3.26, using a two-sample t test with unequal variances). Looking at the same relationship another way, I regressed the OSR play behavior score on effects-coded self-declared OSR participation (omnibus F(1, 1628) = 283.61, R2 = .15, b = 1.42, SE = .08, t = 16.84, p < .001, 95% CI [1.25, 1.58]). In English, people who said they participate in the OSR (yes/no) do actually report higher OSR play behavior (the R2 = .15 value means that self-declared participation explains about 15% of the variance in OSR play behavior). Additionally, people with higher OSR play scores were more likely to report having bought an OSR product, according to a logistic regression (b = .51, SE = .07, z = 7.21, p < .001, 95% CI [.37, .65]). This is somewhat exploratory, but strongly suggests the score is capturing some meaningful variation in reported behavior.

Now for some of the more intriguing relationships, such as with blogging (Do you have a blog where you post about tabletop roleplaying games? Yes/No). OSR play behavior positively predicts blogging about any tabletop roleplaying games (b = .32, SE = .06, z = 5.55, p < .001, 95% CI [.21, .43], using a logistic regression). General play behavior, however, measured as the number of different games played, has no relationship to blogging (b = .09, SE = .06, z = 1.55, p = .121). The logistic regression equivalent of R2 is pretty low for this relationship, around 2%, so the importance of the relationship may be small, but the point is comparative: something about OSR play inclines people toward sharing long-form thoughts about tabletop roleplaying compared to just playing a wide variety of games.

Finally, respondents with higher OSR play behavior scores reported the OSR to be more welcoming of diverse voices (omnibus F(1, 1628) = 129.69, R2 = .07, b = .46, SE = .04, t = 11.39, p < .001, 95% CI [.38, .54]). The text of this particular item was: The OSR welcomes diverse voices (1 = Strongly disagree, 7 = Strongly agree; M = 4.79, SD = 1.70, n = 1823). There are a few potential interpretations of this result. Optimistically, people walking the talk (that is, respondents that actually play consensually-defined OSR games) have a more positive view of the degree to which the OSR is welcoming. Pessimistically, there may be some selection bias, as people who feel the OSR is unwelcoming may have been less likely to participate in the survey at all. Anecdotally, I did observe this reaction from a handful of individuals. As a crude robustness check, I arbitrarily changed 50 of the “welcoming” responses (around 2% of the sample) to be 1 (Strongly disagree), simulating absent negative responses, and ran the same analysis again. The result held, suggesting that this sort of selection bias would have minimal effect on aggregate beliefs.


OSR survey report

Table of contents

  1. Purpose & participation
  2. What about the R?
  3. Meaning respondents associate with OSR
  4. OSR games
  5. OSR attributes
  6. OSR play behavior

OSR attributes

(This is one part of an ongoing discussion of the 2018 OSR Survey results. See the table of contents at the bottom of this post for links to the other parts.)

Along with beliefs about particular games, I also asked respondents about their attitudes toward several game elements and common approaches to rules. I chose things for rating that I thought might have a strong positive or negative association with OSR, such as random encounters (positive), 3d6 in order for stats (positive), and balanced encounters (negative). Some of these things are central enough that people use them to inspire the names of blogs. For example: save.vs.totalpartykill.ca, tenfootpole.org, and Ten Foot Polemic. Middenmurk writes: 3d6-in-order transports you into an entirely different world. Every single one of these attitudes differs significantly between self-declared OSR participants and self-declared OSR non-participants.

The predicted differences by group were more than a scale point for half of the items: 3d6 in order for stats (b = 1.48, 95% CI [1.29, 1.67]), Save or die (b = 1.31, 95% CI [1.11, 1.50]), Race as class (b = 1.26), Random encounters (b = 1.09, 95% CI [.95, 1.23]), Level drain (b = 1.03, 95% CI [.83, 1.22]), and Balanced encounters (b = -1.28, 95% CI [-1.45, -1.11]). In plain English, for example, this means that people who think of themselves as OSR participants on average Somewhat like 3d6 in order for stats, while non-participants are on the dislike side of Neutral. The average attitude across all attitude objects was higher for self-declared OSR participants than for self-declared OSR non-participants, but this is unsurprising given that I chose more attitude objects relevant to my associations with OSR play. I am unsure how to make sense of the result that OSR participants like Ascending AC more than non-participants. Maybe the non-participants have negative attitudes toward anything associated with Dungeons & Dragons of any stripe. I am open to alternative explanations though.

Somewhat surprisingly (at least to me), everyone, even OSR non-participants, seemed to be positive about Random encounters and Reaction rolls, which are mechanisms that weave juxtaposed outcomes into surprising sequence of fictional game events. This leads me to believe that positive attitude toward play designed to produce emergent (as opposed to planned) narrative is a broadly shared preference. It seems that Railroading, Alignment languages, and Dice fudging are universally disliked, with Railroading being solidly in full Dislike territory across all responses. Perhaps the title I gave to the second figure is an overstatement, as slightly on the Like side of Neutral for Balanced encounters is hardly a ringing endorsement, but relatively speaking self-declared OSR non-participants like Balanced encounters a whole lot more than self-declared participants.

Gygaxian fundamentalism

I included one quirky item which I thought might represent a form of early D&D orthodoxy: attitude toward Alignment languages. The general reaction I have seen to the idea of alignment languages is either confusion or bemused contempt, with the occasional attempt to use the idea as a prompt for some creative (but almost always ironically satirical) world building. I rarely (perhaps never) have seen alignment languages actually come up in play any time recently. I am sure there are exceptions, but the point is that it seemed like a good candidate for looking at the attitude respondents might have toward something cumbersome but authentically Gygaxian. However, even self-declared OSR participants on average dislike Alignment languages. I interpret this reported attitude as some evidence that Gygaxian fundamentalism, or the regard for something solely based on the fact that Gygax did it, is less central to the meaning of OSR than many other elements in the constellation of meaning making up OSR. Similarly, while respondents generally agreed that AD&D was OSR (and to a greater degree among self-declared OSR participants: MOSR = 5.85, Mnon-OSR = 5.08), AD&D was rated less OSR than the games closer to Basic D&D in the set of games I presented.

Based on these comparisons, it is clear that a set of distinct attitudinal preferences toward game elements at least distinguishes OSR participants from non-participants, and perhaps underlies the division. However, the attitudes differ in ways that are somewhat counter-stereotypical. It seems that few respondents like the idea of experiencing a planned narrative, contrary to some assumptions I have seen in OSR circles, and old rules pedigree (or that related concept, nostalgia) is insufficient alone to generate positive regard among OSR participants, contrary to assertions I have seen outside OSR circles.


OSR survey report

Table of contents

  1. Purpose & participation
  2. What about the R?
  3. Meaning respondents associate with OSR
  4. OSR games
  5. OSR attributes
  6. OSR play behavior

OSR games

(This is one part of an ongoing discussion of the 2018 OSR Survey results. See the table of contents at the bottom of this post for links to the other parts.)

Beliefs about the nature of OSR, according to previous exploration of the 2018 OSR survey responses, seem to cohere around three broad themes or aspects: OSR as rules tradition, OSR as commerce, and OSR as social scene. Of the three aspects, respondents overall agreed most strongly that OSR is a rules tradition. There was greater ambivalence around the other two aspects, with commerce rating lowest on average. This naturally leads to the question of what kinds of rules and which games seem most OSR. In this post, I will discuss which games survey respondents believed were most (and least) OSR.

According to respondents, the most OSR games, out of the games I asked about, are Labyrinth Lord, Swords & Wizardry, Lamentations of the Flame Princess, and B/X D&D, all scoring above 6 (Agree) on average, across all participants, with LL narrowly taking the top slot. The least OSR games are Fate, Pathfinder, and Vampire: The Masquerade, all scoring below 2 (Disagree) on average, across all participants. I think this set entails reasonable coverage, though there are a few unfortunate omissions in retrospect, such as the lack of OSRIC. Respondents seemed neutral about whether the classic non-D&D games counted as OSR, with Classic Traveller, Runequest, and Call of Cthulhu all hovering around the scale midpoint. I was moderately surprised to see how D&D 5E rated (less OSR than Dungeon World!), given the high regard many people in my circles seem to have for this edition. This is speculation, but I suppose this means that the dominant associations respondents have with D&D 5E remain mainstream trends such as adventure paths, character builds, and tactical set-piece combats. The games respondents rated as least OSR seem to have associations with narrative focus (Apocalypse World, Vampire, Fate) and D&D 3E (Pathfinder).

Near the end of the survey, I asked respondents which games they were currently playing. Respondents could select all that applied from the following list: B/X D&D, D&D 5E, Pathfinder, Home-brew (OSR), Home-brew (other), Vampire, Lamentations of the Flame Princess, Swords & Wizardry, Apocalypse World, Dungeon World, Other PbtA game, Other World of Darkness game, Labyrinth Lord, B/X Essentials, AD&D (1E), GURPS, Shadowrun, Call of Cthulhu, Runequest, Fate, and Savage Worlds. Combining these reports of play behavior with the aggregate OSR ratings of games described above allowed me to compute an OSR play behavior score for each respondent. More on this in a future post.

On average, respondents reported currently playing 3.26 different games (SD = 2.51). 34 respondents (1.86% of N = 1828) reported playing more than 10 different games currently, including one respondent that checked all 18 game options, which seems implausible, but I am going to chalk that up to careless responding/measurement error and expect sample size to wash out that messiness. Without those 34, the average number of different games played drops to 3.08 games (SD = 2.16), but I keep them for all following results, as I predetermined all exclusion criteria.

Keep in mind respondents could select more than one game. Apologies for the small fonts.

Unfortunately, the survey lacked an option to indicate playing DCC, which I suspect would have a substantial number of current players. That was an oversight on my part. I did include an open ended item for other games played, and 142 respondents indicated playing DCC there. Additionally, the two World of Darkness related items were Vampire (or other WoD) and Other World of Darkness game, which overlap. (Clearly I should have proofread this set of options more carefully.) The headline results here are the popularity of D&D 5E (which indicates the power of the market leader) and the popularity of games genealogically related to B/X D&D. In fact, in terms of the games people are actually playing, based on these results one could view OSR as a vehicle for propagating the B/X vision of D&D.

For those unaware, the B/X D&D rules tradition started with the Moldvay Basic rules (covering character levels 1 through 3) and the Cook/Marsh Expert rules (covering character levels 4-14). It continued with the Mentzer-initiated BECMI line (covering character levels 1-36 and collected in the 1991 Rules Cyclopedia), which TSR supported in parallel with the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons line. The B/X line lineage is notable for simple rules and treating character class as a more general abstraction, rather than something closer to profession. For example, “elf” is a class in B/X. Arguably, the modern “playbook” trend derives from the B/X notion of class.

As always, let me know in the comments if anything is unclear, if you have any questions, or if you have any suggestions.


OSR survey report

Table of contents

  1. Purpose & participation
  2. What about the R?
  3. Meaning respondents associate with OSR
  4. OSR games
  5. OSR attributes
  6. OSR play behavior

What about the R?

(This is one part of an ongoing discussion of the 2018 OSR Survey results. See the table of contents at the bottom of this post for links to the other parts.)

Respondents clearly preferred Renaissance (70% of responses) as the meaning of the R in OSR. Revival took silver, with about 20% of responses. After that was a long tail of many different alternatives. Third place was “Rules” (but at less than 4%). Consolation prizes for write-in snark go to: Fuck you, we won (okay dude but where’s the R?), R is for the R in OSR, Revanchist, Regurgitation, and (drum roll…) Reformatting.

Enough respondents wrote something close enough to Roleplaying that I created a category for that response. After coding a few of the Other values into existing categories when obviously warranted (such as when a respondent wrote in “rules” rather than selecting the offered Rules category), the final counts were:

Several people on Reddit suggested to me that question wording may have advantaged certain of the options. I attempted, to the degree possible while maintaining idiomatic English, to avoid reifying OSR as a social category in the survey up to that point. We avoided using the definite article (“the”) in the wording of the eight meaning questions that preceded the question about the R. We mentioned “the OSR” twice up to that point. The first was a mention in the landing page leading to the survey proper. The second was the participation question (Do you participate in the OSR? Yes/No), which would have been difficult or impossible to ask without the definite article. Additionally, we randomized the presentation order of the options, so Ruckus was just as likely to be first option as Renaissance. In retrospect, I might have avoided the definite article in the landing page also and asked the participation question on a following page, but this hardly seems like putting my thumb on the scale, especially given the overwhelming preference for Renaissance.

You can find the remaining write-in responses here, presented in alphabetic order without editing (n = 65). Also, for those interested, here is the exact presentation that respondents saw: meaning questions page 1, meaning questions page 2, and the page containing the question about the R. (Remember that we randomized presentation of the eight meaning questions across two pages in the actual survey.)

I also tested several categorical associations with tendency to choose Renaissance over other options. Of the categories I examined, only self-declared OSR participation had an association with choice of Renaissance. The number of observations varies slightly by test due to skipped questions.

    • Self-declared OSR participation: χ2(1, N = 1816) = 13.16, p < .001
    • Residence in North America: χ2(1, N = 1821) = .95, p = .329
    • Having published an OSR product: χ2(1, N = 1786) = .65, p = .419

(253 respondents reported that they had published an OSR product, around 14% of responses.)

Association between self-declared OSR participation and reading the R as Renaissance


OSR survey report

Table of contents

  1. Purpose & participation
  2. What about the R?
  3. Meaning respondents associate with OSR
  4. OSR games
  5. OSR attributes
  6. OSR play behavior

OSR survey: meaning

(This is one part of an ongoing discussion of the 2018 OSR Survey results. See the table of contents at the bottom of this post for links to the other parts.)

Over the past few years, I have been continually surprised by the degree of disagreement, confusion, and, occasionally, vitriol regarding the meaning of OSR. I think it is uncontroversial to state that the meaning is contested. It is unclear, however, whether there is any consensus and, more generally, what is the structure of underlying beliefs. Summarizing, the results of the survey support at least three main aspects of OSR meaning. Agreement about these three aspects varies by respondent age, with younger respondents seeing greater conflict between the aspects compared to older respondents. There are other variables to consider, but I will focus on age and self-declared participation in this post.

Age and participation might influence beliefs about OSR for many reasons. Considering rules, older participants might have played older games when they were originally released and so have a different frame of reference compared to younger players. Self-declared participants in the OSR may have different priorities, or more information, compared to self-declared non-participants. We asked respondents directly about participation. (Do you participate in the OSR? Yes/No.) We also asked five questions about identification with the OSR using a seven-point agreement scale (for example, I feel a bond with the OSR). Respondents who participate in the OSR also identify more with the OSR (by approximately 1.75 points of agreement, or the difference between Somewhat agree and Strongly agree).

Before I describe the associations in the survey between meaning beliefs and age or participation, it is worth first looking at the beliefs in aggregate, over all responses. Following are the means of the OSR is… questions, which I think of as the basic “meaning” questions. We also asked each of these questions in terms of respondent desires, so we will be able to look at the discrepancy between what people believe OSR is and what they want it to be.

OSR meaning across all responses

These averages tell a simple story, which is that respondents agree most that OSR refers to a play style and set of design principles. Respondents agree somewhat that OSR is a scene or movement and that OSR is a collection of aesthetics. Respondents are close to neutral, on average, about the commercial aspect of OSR. Looking at the text of each question, and the averages, three pairs seem to hang together conceptually, tapping into game design, social, and commercial aspects, with aesthetics and specific rules off in their own space. Formal statistical analysis1 leads to the same conclusion, so I averaged each of those three pairs into new scores for the game design, social, and commercial aspects. In the following figures, I color code aspects where possible, using black for rules, green for commerce, and blue for social interaction. I created similar scores for aspects as desired (that is, what respondents say they would like OSR to mean).

The following figure shows a box plot of the three aspects. Quartiles determine the look of box plots. The central line in each box shows the median. The diamonds represent outside values, which are values more than 1.5 quartiles away from the median.

OSR meaning and desired meaning based on quartile

One way to interpret the the greater number of outside values for the rules aspect compared to the other aspects is that there is more consensus around the rules aspect. The quartiles are tighter. Looking at a similar figure that compares OSR participants to non-participants yields similar conclusions, though participants seem to both perceive and want a greater social component. (The right pane below is OSR participants.) It is perhaps unsurprising that the discrepancy between perception and desire is greater for non-participants than participants on average, as that mismatch may be part why non-participants avoid participating to begin with.

Box plots comparing meaning for self-declared OSR participants with non-participants

Age provides a potential explanation, at least partially, for broader misunderstanding and disagreement, shown in the following figure. Younger respondents seem to have stronger beliefs about OSR meaning compared to older respondents (as in, positions more strongly held). Further, there is a stark divide between commerce and social/game design aspects for younger players. Older players seem to agree, relatively speaking, that OSR is more about rules than social interaction or commerce, but are basically neutral, on average, regarding OSR as commerce or social interaction. (The pattern looks similar if I plot a figure using years playing tabletop roleplaying games as the independent variable, rather than age.) I suggest only interpreting the linear predictions (the lines) for age < 60, as the number of responses decreases markedly for age > 60.

OSR meaning aspect trends over respondent age

This pattern is similar for non-participants compared to participants, though older non-participants have much stronger aversion to the social component of the OSR (see figure below). Though the left pane may look sparse compared to the right pane, 372 responses is substantial.

OSR meaning aspect trends over respondent age, separating non-participants (left) and participants (right)



1. A three-factor model fits the data best, with the three item pairs loading heavily on factors consistent with the three aspects explained above. For stats nerds, I used exploratory factor analysis with maximum likelihood estimation and oblique promax rotation. I chose oblique rotation because the latent variables are correlated above a conventional threshold, making orthogonal rotation less appropriate. I chose to score latent variables using averages rather than factor scores so that interpretation of the results in terms of the seven-point response scale is possible.


OSR survey report

Table of contents

  1. Purpose & participation
  2. What about the R?
  3. Meaning respondents associate with OSR
  4. OSR games
  5. OSR attributes
  6. OSR play behavior

OSR survey participation

(This is one part of an ongoing discussion of the 2018 OSR Survey results. See the table of contents at the bottom of this post for links to the other parts.)

This is the first post of several where I will summarize the results of the OSR survey Ben and I ran. The survey was open from December 3rd through December 8th (2018). Given the high level of participation, and a handful of common critiques, after I have a chance to post some results I plan to ask for general feedback about how we ran the survey and what people might like to see in the future. For those who want a short summary, the TLDR of this post is that there were 2000+ responses (that is a lot), mostly from North America/Europe, and some basic demographics (such as age and country of residence) are similar for OSR participants and non-participants (based on self-categorization).

Purpose

A few people asked why we were running the survey at all. The superficial (but true) answer is that I saw Ben post a question on Google Plus about what questions people might like to see on a hypothetical OSR survey. I was curious too, and I have some experience running surveys so I reached out, and here we are. The slightly more involved (and also true) answer is that I have been, over the last several years, continually surprised by seeming confusion, misunderstanding, and disagreement surrounding the meanings that people attach to the term OSR. Personally, I am primarily curious about the degree to which there is consensus about this meaning, whether the meaning differs substantially between people that consider themselves to be participating in (the?) OSR, and whether the meaning people currently see matches what they would like. Secondarily, I am also curious about what content (at the game level) people consider OSR, the geographical distribution of people that participate in (the?) OSR, and favorite OSR products. Other questions may occur to me as I proceed (and feel free to suggest questions if you have any).

Responses

2018 respondents completed the survey (that serendipitous number is a coincidence). Based on some preliminary checks, I see no sign of brigading, bots, or similar threats to data quality. 134 responses failed the attention check near the end. 46 responses provided age greater than 100 and one response gave age less than 10. 9 respondents specified that I should discard their response entirely. None of these responses will contribute to my summaries. After exclusion, there were 1,828 responses. To the question Do you participate in the OSR?, 1450 respondents said Yes, 372 respondents said No, and 6 skipped the question.

Generalizability

Several people seemed suspicious about why we asked any demographic questions. The point of such questions is have some basis from which to generalize the results. For example, if respondents skew older, it would be inappropriate to assume results represent the beliefs of younger players. And so forth. Additionally, many people indicated, both to me directly and in the final “share anything” question, that they found the two items about political orientation insufficient to accurately communicate beliefs. Due to this feedback, and to ease concerns that there is some prior political agenda motivating the survey, we decided to avoid looking at those measures. Most obviously, these results speak more to the beliefs about people who talk about games online. Only people who frequent RPG forums or follow people who talk about RPGs on social media are likely to have heard about the survey at all, so that is a property of the sampling process. Put another way, we oversampled (heavily, perhaps close to exclusively) people who spend large amounts of time on hobbies online. That is, however, appropriate to OSR, which originated and developed online.

Figures

The first two figures show scatter plots of responses over time. The first plot shows how long participants took to answer the survey, in minutes. For ease of visual interpretation, I avoided plotting a handful of observations where respondents took an extra-long amount of time to submit the survey, though these responses still contribute to other results. The second plot shows respondent age, which drifts very slightly up according to the trend over time, though it is difficult to see. Plots such as these often show potential confounds or technical errors. Nothing like that jumps out at me.

Response Duration Over Time (the X axis represents about one week)

Respondent Age Over Time (the X axis represents about one week)

Responses by day (survey dashboard)

The mean response age was 36.81 (SD = 9.88, n = 1828) and the stats are similar for self-declared OSR participants (Mage = 36.58, SD = 9.87, n = 1450) and self-declared OSR non-participants (Mage = 37.64, SD = 9.90, n = 372).

Respondent Age Distribution

There was a mix of people that have been playing tabletop roleplaying games for a while and people that started more recently. My guess is that the frequencies by year shown below approximately reflect general industry fortunes.

Year Started Playing Tabletop Roleplaying Games

I categorized responses by rough geographic area based on country of residence. Yes, I know that “Asia” is an oversimplification, but look at the number of responses before you object. Participants that skipped the country item, or responses that were ambiguous to me, show up in the “Uncertain” category (as in, I am uncertain). The majority of responses are, unsurprisingly, from North America (65%), and 89% are from North America plus Europe combined (being relatively expansive about the definition of Europe). So when you are thinking about what kinds of conclusions you can draw from these results, keep that in mind. This survey should give a decently representative picture of people from North America and Europe who talk about tabletop roleplaying games online, but speak less to players living in other cultures.

Geography or responses (overall)

Geography of responses (self-declared OSR participants)

Geography of respondents (self-declared OSR non-participants)

The social media context in which people reside may be even more important, for purposes of measuring beliefs about OSR, than physical geography. Respondents indicated where they heard about the survey, and that seems like a reasonable, if imperfect, proxy for social media environment. The immediate takeaway here is that Reddit is huge. The secondary takeaway is that the survey represents a much wider swath of RPG players than those that I hang around, as my crowd is mostly on Google Plus and blogs at the moment. We also asked people about how often they used various platforms for talking about games, but I think that is enough for now.

Social media context


OSR survey report

Table of contents

  1. Purpose & participation
  2. What about the R?
  3. Meaning respondents associate with OSR
  4. OSR games
  5. OSR attributes
  6. OSR play behavior

Signs of practice

Newcomers are the primary beneficiaries of organizing labels, which make sense of as yet unmapped territory1. It is possible to take a scenic route to the same semantic destination by reciting minor arcana: resource depletion, lethality, creative problem solving, exploration-focused play, location-based design, and so forth. However, doing so is a cumbersome and awkward method of evocation, perhaps occasionally justified by greater precision, but suboptimal for widespread comprehension.

I run mostly old school rules. That is, I draw from a school of thought based primarily in the original 1974 D&D and Moldvay’s 1981 Basic D&D. I participate in a renaissance. That is, the explosion of creation2 and discussion3 informed by old school gaming traditions. This continues, at a constant or accelerating rate.

So, there was and is a renaissance of tabletop roleplaying games with old school genealogy. What is in a label? Without a label to organize and bind the concepts in these traditions together, it is unlikely that playing tabletop RPGs would be on my radar at all at this point in my life. I got into gaming back in 2011 only because a coworker invited me to a fourth edition D&D game, and that led me to OSR conversations online. If all I experienced then was mainstream fourth edition D&D, I doubt I would have persisted.

Rather than helping a marginalized group or suffering individual, polarization4 weaponizes substantive political concerns to sow divisions and play status games, sometimes to bolster egos, sometimes to build name recognition in service of selling products. I am not the neighborhood watch, or, even worse, an officer of the congregation for the doctrine of the faith. But my conversations, are, I think, pretty chill.

I choose to focus on similarities rather than differences. I choose to ignore the changelings, those malevolent intelligences consciously or unconsciously adapted to coopting your attention, generating social reinforcement, and harnessing your emotion. That is my perspective. I doubt it will change any time soon.


1. Quick Primer for Old School Gaming, Principia Apocrypha

2. An incomplete and idiosyncratic list in approximately reverse chronological order: Blasphemous Roster, Mothership, Dead Planet, Echoes From Fomalhaut #1, Echoes From Fomalhaut #2, Thousand Thousand Islands, Frostbitten and Mutilated, Through Ultan’s Door #1, B/X Essentials: Classes and Equipment, Krevborna, B/X Essentials: Cleric and Magic-User Spells, Kidnap the Archpriest, Operation Unfathomable, Gardens of Ynn, Megadungeon #3, Epochrypha, Eldritch Cock, B/X Essentials: Monsters, Faux Pas, The Dolorous Stroke, Sounds of the Mushroom Kingdom, Knave, B/X Essentials: Adventures and Treasures, Witchburner, The Stygian Library, What Ho Frog Demons, Umberwell, XQ1 The Castle that Fell from the Sky, Ultraviolet Grasslands free extended intro, Field Guide to Hot Springs Island, Dark of Hot Springs Island, Veins of the Earth, Hyqueous Vaults, Tomb of the Serpent King, Macchiato Monsters ZERO, Mageblade! Zero, Marvels & Malisons, Wolf-Packs & Winter Snow, B/X Essentials: Core Rules, Dungeon Full of Monsters, Fever Swamp, Nameless Grimoire, Megadungeon #1, Maze of the Blue Medusa, Broodmother Skyfortress, A Market in the Woods, World of the Lost, Black Hack, Misty Isles of the Eld, Perdition, Nightmares Underneath, Maze Rats, Hubris, Do Not Let Us Die In the Dark Night of This Cold Winter, Comes the Mountain, Black Sun Deathcrawl, Fire on the Velvet Horizon, Yoon-Suin, Stonehell Dungeon: Into the Hearth of Hell, Into the Odd, Lusus Naturae, Castle Gargantua, Fever-Dreaming Marlinko, Wizard-Spawned Insanities, Perilous Wilds, Wormskin, Troika, Dread Machine, Along the Road of Tombs, Wreck of the Anubis, Lone Colossus of the Akolouthos Sink, Cthonic Codex, Vacant Ritual Assembly, Warband, No Salvation For Witches, Red and Pleasant Land, Excellent Travelling Volume, Adventure Fantasy Game, Terrors of the Ancient World, Dungeon Dozen, An Illustrated Bestiary of Fantastic Creatures, Deep Carbon Observatory, Undercroft, Sleeping Palace of the Feathered Swine, Servants of the Cinder Queen, Barrowmaze Complete, Slumbering Ursine Dunes, Goblin Punch Book of Tigers, Pergamino Barocco, Hexenbracken, Teratic Tome, Hulks & Horrors, Beyond the Wall, Lamentations of the Flame Princess: Rules & Magic, On the NPC, Better Than Any Man, Seclusium of Orphone, Evil Wizards in a Cave, Pits & Perils, Space-Age Sorcery, Corpathium, Prison of the Hated Pretender, Tempus Gelidum, Obelisk of Forgotten Memories, Red Demon, DCC RPG, Astonishing Swordsmen and Sorcerers of Hyperborea, Dungeon Module ASE2-3: Anomalous Subsurface Environment, Hamsterish Hoard of Monsters, Other Dust, Rappan Athuk, Grimmsgate, Barrowmaze, Theorems and Thaumaturgy, Tales of the Dungeonesque and Grotesque, “An Echo Resounding”, Dwarf-Land, Small But Vicious Dog, Carcosa, Vornheim, Dungeon Module ASE1: Anomalous Subsurface Environment, Demonspore, Challenge of the Frog Idol, Tome of Adventure Design, Pod-Caverns of the Sinister Shroom, Realms of Crawling Chaos, Red Tide, Shadowbrook Manor, Lamentations of the Flame Princess: Deluxe Edition, Tower of the Stargazer, Dyson’s Delve, Stars Without Number, Death Frost Doom, One Page Dungeon Codex, Cursed Chateau, Stonehell Dungeon, Eldritch Weirdness Compilation, Knockspell, Spire of Iron and Crystal, Miscellaneum of Cinder, Tomb of the Iron God, Fight On!, Random Esoteric Creature Generator, Philotomy’s Musings, OSRIC, Mines of Khunmar

3. OSR blog list in OPML format, Links to Wisdom wiki

4. OSR logo controversy

Mewe’s missing feature

As any reader of Necropraxis is likely already aware, Google Plus will be closing shop in August 2019, and people who like to talk about tabletop roleplaying games on G+ are looking for a replacement. Mewe, a privacy-focused non-Facebook social media platform, seems to be one of the main contenders. The day of the G+ sunset announcement was the first time I had ever heard of Mewe, but I created an account and have been moderately active over the past week or so. Mewe seems reasonably functional, and even offers some improvements compared to Google Plus, but it is currently missing a feature like collections, which supports the ability for site users to categorize their own posts in a way that allows readers to opt out of seeing posts from particular categories.

Other than that, Mewe fits the way I want to use social media pretty well. Certainly better than a twitter-alikes, forum-alikes, or IRC-alikes, which seem like the only other real options so far, apart from Facebook, which is a nonstarter (for me). I have been blogging and reading blogs regularly since… 2011? so a “new blog renaissance” actually seems like the status quo rather than a substitute for a social media platform. I appreciate that the Google Plus sunset announcement has spurred some people to start new blogs, but as long as I have been participating in the blog scene, there is has always been a regular churn of new voices, and people who move on, including over the last few years when conversation on Google Plus was at peak.

Some people have noted the lack of capabilities to post publicly and the need to login to the site before any content is viewable. The peer to peer and default-private design of Mewe is actually what I prefer; unlike others who seemingly want everything public to increase readership, visibility, and marketing reach, I don’t really care about those goals one way or the other. Anything that I want more public or generally searchable goes on the blog. If it is useful to others, great; if not, no skin off my back.

I do miss the lack of a feature such as collections though. On Google Plus, most of my activity was about tabletop RPGs, or adjacent topics such as manga, which could reasonably coexist in a single feed. Occasionally, however, I like to post about cocktails, fitness, and other unrelated topics. I don’t want to deposit all that on a single feed. And I don’t want to create a private group for it and invite others, or participate in some general group, which is basically just a forum with a more proprietary interface, and those are the two workarounds supported by Mewe’s current feature set, as far as I am aware. I want a way to curate what I post and curate what I read, at the level of individual connections.

The way I use Google Plus, I have three main circles which organize my connections. Once circle serves as an inbox, grouping the people that I want to see content from. This is the feed I browse. (You can browse the feed from specific circles under “Circle Feeds” in the G+ user interface.) Browsing my inbox feed directly allows me to avoid Google’s spam-laden algorithm-sorted default home feed, which I loathe. Mewe allows users to selectively remove a user’s content from the home feed, while retaining a connection to the user, which serves this same purpose. The other two circles control access to what I post. One, which I call outbox, allows access to any content related to games or adjacent topics. The other, which I call ephemera, is for the secondary topics. Then, I associate various collections, such as Dungeons & Dragons, movies, cocktails, and so forth, with either outbox or ephemera. That allows anyone in, for example, my outbox to opt out of my manga collection to avoid seeing Berserk panels or whatever.


(Somewhat related, If you want to see me talk, I participated in a YouTube panel that Matt Finch hosted last week discussing some of the options. Matt also interviewed Jason Hardy, product director at Mewe, who has been quite engaged with gamers from G+ recently.)


(This post is just about the technology. Any discussion about politics around the site is off topic for the purposes of this post. There are some real concerns, but they deserve a separate post. I am unaware currently of any blog posts on this topic, but Martin R. lays out some of his concerns in a public Google Plus post if you want to read about it.)