Adventure Game vs OSR

Image by Ma-Ko
Image by Ma-Ko

Here’s a bit of an epiphany I had today. If I had to sum up the kinds of games I like to play in a single term, the term I’d like best wouldn’t be Old-School Renaissance, or Dungeons & Dragons, or DIY RPG, or even roleplaying game, but “Adventure Game.”

OSR Game: The term OSR often implies that the game is compatible with early DnD, which is often not the case for what I play and something I don’t really care about. Of course, to many people OSR means a style of play, but the term itself doesn’t really give you any indication of what that is. There’s too many steps from saying the term to getting someone to understand exactly what I mean by it.

D&D: Too imprecise and doesn’t exactly capture the kind of game I want, especially given the variety of ways the people play it now.

DIY Game: While I’m a big believer in DIY, it again doesn’t cover the style of play, only how people interact with it. There’s lots of people hacking games apart and reassembling them, but that’s no guarantee that I’ll like it.

Adventure Game: The term “Adventure” does a lot of heavy lifting for a single word, and covers the vast majority of what I enjoy.

  1. It implies authentic peril and the possibility of loss.
  2. It implies strangeness, travel, the unexpected, and the confusing.
  3. It implies variety and an episodic structure, a picaresque rather than a novel.
  4. It implies cleverness, ingenuity, and cunning rather than a bloody slog.
  5. It implies characters like Conan, Luke Skywalker, Elric, Hellboy or Fafrd.
  6. It’s short, simple, and isn’t obscure. Episodic-high-stakes-open-ended-lateral-problem-solving-fantasy-game might be more accurate, but good luck with that catching on.
  7. It evokes (in my head) a game that’s simple, unpretentious, and focused on fun at the table.

The argument over what to call the experimental, non-traditional side of the OSR is a bit silly, but good name goes a long way, and a clearer label than “OSR” for what we do here could make a big difference as we move into the post G+ phase of the movement, especially since books from this scene are finally starting to capture the public eye in a big way.

33 Replies

  • As ever when it comes to a discussion on semantics, it’s all hugely subjective and each discusser will be bringing their own baggage with them to the table. For my part, the idea of playing an adventure game conjures up the mental image of plot armour-heavy The Famous Five and Biggles which, while great fun when I was younger, is not really what I’m looking for in an RPG! I am fully aware, though, that not everyone has been given the same sort of books to read as a child!

    It depends on who this label is being ‘marketed’ towards. Is the name for those who haven’t playing a roleplaying game of some kind before? I’m not sure if the OSR games have quite that reach yet but, if they had, I don’t know if ‘adventure’ is unique enough to distinguish the games from other gaming choices – it’s used quite regularly to describe pretty much anything which hopes to hint at any form of tension.

    Is it for those who play the world’s most popular roleplaying game(s)? This is where I came from: seeing a couple of references to OSR as a diffferent approach to D&D with not dissimilar mechanics, and then finding all these games which associated themselves with that label. I feel this is the OSR term at its most useful, and I feel a new term would need to in someway highlight the differences from 5e and Pathfinder. Admittedly, this might restrict the OSR to being ‘we are NOT this’, but I think there might be worth to noting the ‘Challenge Over Crunch’ values in most OSR games.

    Or is it a label primarily for those within the community already to know that a game has been created with particular values in mind which probably (but not always) complement those of the prospective reader and player? I hope not, because that almost conveys a sense of secret handshakes…

    I have no solution (yet), but I agree that it would be desirabel to have a term which causes fewer conversations along the lines of: ‘I play [blank a] games. Oh, [blank a] means [blank b], and [blank b] refers to [blank c] and [blank d]. [Blank a] sometimes means [blank e]. It’s definately not [blank f].’

    • I think Idle Doodler hit the nail on the head with the “Challenge Over Crunch” value that has attracted many (myself included) to the OSR style gaming. Although since the term “crunch” isn’t as easily understood by some, I’d use something along the lines of “Creative Problem Solving Over Intricacy”. I think this value would be, or should be, a core tenet to the change in terminology to “Tabletop Adventure Gaming” removing the focus on rules and mechanics and refocusing on the adventure (story, plot, interactions, etc) itself.

  • Thanks Ben for posting about peeling off that old, smelly label from the movement/community/whatever-we-are. I for one have been trying to replace ‘OSR’ and ‘old school gaming’ with ‘adventure gaming’ when describing these games we make and play, so I’m super happy to see it gain traction from a community leader =)

    Another perk of using ‘adventure games’, in my opinion: it can be used as a replacement for ‘roleplaying games’ altogether (and it has been for some game books targeting wider audiences – quite frequently actually in French publishing). It also makes TTRPGs more distinct from computer RPGs. No more confusion when talking to muggles!

  • I must admit that is how I’ve always thought of the games I make, which have always been “OSR Adjacent” rather than truly OSR in terms of the old school mechanics. I still like OSR games, but only because some much of the content for them is high adventure.

  • You took a passive thought in my head that I couldn’t congeal and didn’t fully understand and you wrote a blog post about it. I’m looking forward to seeing where you’re going with this line of thinking and with re-opening your blog to new and frequent posts. I’m actually rather happy the G+ days are ending as it seemed to start off positively and then slowly digresses into chaos and idle repetitive talk about the same old things. It was good for those new to the hobby for getting questions answered, but difficult for experienced players to test and share new ideas.

    On a side note, I think a lot of times people think of OSR as a rules style similar to older D&D style rules. I like the term “Adventure Game” as it seems more open to various rules styles from lite to heavy, from d20 based to d6 to create your own method for deciding chance.

  • Wow this blog looks really nice, reminds me a bit of sword peddlers blog

    I always thought of “old school revival” as people who were primary interested in playing games like they were played in the 70’s and 80’s

    And then “old school Renaissance” as an experiment in traveling back in time, and changing core d&d mechanics, so it looks like something else entirely. As well taking classic stuff, and twisting it in interesting new ways.

    I agree the word adventure sums up a lot and is a useful word that people can get on board with, without as much need to read a primer on play style.

  • Yeah, I’ve been calling them “adventure games” for years now (since late 2011/2012) as part of rethinking what the foundations of the game are. Glad to see it’s catching on with people.

  • As a consumer and not part of any ‘community’, I just want to play 80s D&D with some of the new modules and ideas that have come along since.

    I can search for ‘OSR’ on a number of sites and find exactly what I need. I’ve yet to come across a product that bears this label and can’t easily be run in early editions of the game. Some of the DCC products maybe?

    All the stuff in your survey about it being a ‘movement’ or a ‘scene’ is baffling to me. I’m assuming there has been some discussion on forums and social media that I’m not privy to.

    Please just keep ‘OSR’ as a functional marketing term. It sits proudly on the front of my copy of Barrowmaze Complete, and we shouldn’t get rid of it any more than we should get rid of the ‘Labyrinth Lord Compatible Product’ logo.

  • Hey Ben! I like “adventure game” a lot, and like “tabletop adventure game” (as you mentioned above) even more. It’s succinct, sums up the material well, and has the bonus of being a good initialism (or I guess acronym). I’d definitely use it myself for anything I do, because while I’m all about the OSR mindset/playstyle, there’s plenty of non-overlap with OSR in my thinking too. Do you think it’s possible (or even desired) for the term to get any traction? Like you point out, OSR-style material is seeping into the popular tabletop realm now, and while OSR might not be the best term of it, it is (or seems) pretty well entrenched at this point, even if it’s not the most nailed-down descriptor as evidenced by the recent survey you were involved in. I know Zak’s been going with DIY RPG, and while I’m all about the DIY aspect, as a name it doesn’t seem to have caught on, well, a whole lot. Just curious if you’d like to see TAG or AG catch on to a wider degree, or if it’s more of a “this describes my games well and it’s what I’m going to use” thing.

    PS: It looks like you’re not using HTTPS on your blog, you should see about LetsEncrypt or another service to get it secured!

  • I was thinking about this conversation overnight and I remembered the editorial and several articles from Nexus #1, the house zine for Task Force Games. This was published back in 1982 and although Nexus would go on to be dominated TFG Star Fleet Battles and Starfire coverage, many of its 14 issue run had RPG coverage.

    Of note, several times the industry is referred to as “Adventure Gaming”. In addition there is a great article by Eric Goldberg, designer of Dragonquest, called “But is it Role Playing?”.

    Here is the link if anyone is interested.
    https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/236356/Nexus-1

  • I really like “Adventure Game” and similarly “Tabletop Adventure Game” as it says right on the tin what it does.

    Similarly, I’ve always used “Drama Game” to describe the sorts of games where the focus in on characters and their relationships, like a soap opera, rather than focusing on the hijinks the groups as a whole get up to. Sadly I don’t have a better acronym for a TDG

  • You’re right that it’s more intrinsically meaningful than OSR, but “Adventure Game” is quite broad. Looking at my game shelf, there’s Fate, Doctor Who, Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple, and Dungeon World. I think if you asked people “is this an adventure game?” they’d say yes to all of those unless they’d been primed with this post first.

    In some ways this is good, I think the boundary between OSR and storygame should be more permeable, and DW in particular embraces the picaresque, “play to find out what happens” approach so lacking in a lot of D&D play. But many lack the genuine peril you’re looking for.

    Still, this experiment in evolving the language is worth playing around with.

  • The Term “Adventure Game” reminds me of a specific branch of rpg.
    Some even carry the term like the “Lone Wolf Adventure Game”.

    Other games I associate with the term are:
    Prince Valiant Storytelling Game (even though this game is hybridised with the storytelling game tradition; in fact the game was kind of role model for the WoD), Ghostbusters RPG, …

    Some games I haven’t played yet: James Bond RPG / Classified, Advanced Fighting Fantasy RPG 2nd & Stellar Adventures, OneDice RPG.

    … in a way I consider “Adventure Games” to be a strong tradition in the UK – with some ties to the “Adventure Game Books”. (You may call Maelstrom and it’s variants “Adventure Game meets d100-Simulation”.)

  • Note also that it was a term in use in the earliest days. From Shannon Appelcline’s “Designers & Dragons: A History of the Roleplaying Game Industry ’70-’79”, page 305, talking about Duke Seifried, an early miniatures producer: “More importantly for the RPG industry, he came up with the phrase ‘adventure gaming’–which was used to differentiate RPGs from ‘wargaming’ in the earliest days of the hobby.

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