The differences between Traditional RPG's and Story Telling games

I appreciate the distinction between what people usually think of as antagonistic GMing (a GM trying to “win” or “beat” the players) and strong narrative control by a GM. It’s a distinction I recall, now that you mention it, but drawing it out in writing is clarifying.

So, the codification of rules in 3E D&D is partly a response to antagonistic GMing proper, and the OSR and story games respond in different ways to strong narrative control by the GM: the former by constraining the GM’s approach and the latter by diffusing the GM’s authority / ability to prep.

there’s a big chunk of POSR design space about improvisation and eliminating prep either through a sort of referee virtuosity or more practically through proc gen.

I’m not familiar with this space, can you give an example? I know of many light OSR RPGs full of random tables, but the ones I know seem to assume you roll on the tables prior to the game (during prep) for inspiration. I don’t know anything about this “referee virtuosity” idea.

Procedural Generation – I don’t necessarily mean at the table generation, though I think there’s some who do do that, but the use of procedural generation to create stuff quickly and expand adventures rapidly – Emmy Allen’s work immediately comes to mind, but I think a lot of the rules light or ultralight stuff sort of takes this roll on a some tables as needed and improvise thing. Hence the seemingly much smaller amount of dungeons released in the ultralight space vs. “Depthcrawls”, hex crawls or other more scene based scenarios.

Virtuosity - By this I mean the sort of posturing one sometimes sees around very lightly sketched adventure designs such as pamphlet dungeons, ref notes, and other works that provide nebulous scenarios and inspiration but little usable content. It’s simply the claim that such things (a few inspirational tables, a minimal map and maybe an overall description) are all a “good GM” needs to run an adventure.

My own view on Classic design is that to do the dungeon crawl/procedural exploration style scenarios one needs a fair bit more. It’s of course possible to do scene based play (especially with something mechanically light) using far less rules and procedural infrastructure and thus more improvisation, but it’s very hard to do the same in games where one wants to model time pressure and complex navigation of a space.


@GusL Wow great post! I would love to hear more about what you see as trends in the Post-OSR because what you are describing is a big distinction that I’ve noticed but not been able to put my finger on.

I like to play in both the improv heavy style and the more classic style but I agree they are VERY different beasts.

Also BROSR? Do I want to know?

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Also BROSR? Do I want to know?

Likely not? My understanding is that it’s a loose affiliation/subscene of dudes who exhort playing fantasy RPGs in a classic/Gygaxian way as a sort of masculine expression of toughness. There’s some decent understanding of and obvious joy in playing older games found in the tweets and such I’ve seen from this crew, but it’s cloaked in the sort of posturing one would expect from a bar just down from frat row that has peanut shells on the floor - likely off-putting to many people - very silly (and maybe not entirely serious), in the way most toxic masculinity tends to be – especially when the subject is something like fantasy elfgames. But brOSR is a subscene of a subscene.

I would love to hear more about what you see as trends in the Post-OSR because what you are describing is a big distinction that I’ve noticed but not been able to put my finger on.

I’m not a social scientist or Cassandra, but I’ve also notice a few different interpretations of where the older play styles post G+ scenes/sub-scenes should go. I don’t think there’s an especially coherent definition yet, and don’t pretend to understand it all. I tend to use “POSR” for everything that’s after the fall of G+ in the loose constellation of non-contemporary traditional (5E/PF) and non-story games “indie” games (though “indie” is often used as a umbrella term for post-forge PbtA, story and other narrative games). It’s a big tent. So was the old “OSR”, but it as a social scene at least it was more cohesive then the POSR.

First there seems to be a contingent of many of the original forum OSR types - the Knights & Knaves Alehouse or ODD74 posters - and some new blood. To my mind its mostly the sort of pre-2012 or so revivalist OSR still. Deeply steeped in nostalgia for both the mechanics and aesthetic of Gygax era TSR. There’s some interesting stuff in this area if you want to learn about the history of the hobby, but like many ideas devoted to nostalgia it has a dark side. Both demographically and because of concerted effort by some leaders in the space it has a higher number of weird, angry grognards with aggressively right-wing attitudes. This doesn’t just express itself in bigotry, but also in a dismissive and combative attitude toward other play styles.

The next major division I’d make is around the folks that are similarly somewhat revivalist, but newer, and less historically rigorous about what they want to revive. Mostly “discovering” OSR style play via consuming OSE and other retro-clones - playing them fairly casually, not necessarily making a lot of stuff for them but enjoying simpler rules and older styles of play without any concern for fidelity to 1970’s/1980’s play conventions. At its worst this group could be considered a sort of ghost of the “Mid-OSR” - the early/mid G+ period where OSR content still largely stayed close to the original systems, but innovated with setting and non-core mechanics (new classes, spells, settings, hacks around the edges etc). This group contains a lot of new players, many migrating in from 5E, and that’s great! Enthusiasm! I also find it frustrating as it tends to be enthusiastic about reinventing all sorts of things that were long hashed out in the 2012 - 2016 period of G+ OSR creativity. I’ll see someone claiming to have “invented” slot encumbrance every few weeks on Reddit or whatever. It’s too bad so little was saved from the OSR bonfire, and that there’s not really a core space for this group to bend their creativity in new directions.

Another large division is the more experimental “POSR” proper. Generally folks attracted to the late-OSR with its more professional culture of making product instead of blogging or working collaboratively. Also far more influence from other sorts of games, especially narrative games and often focused on slicker production values. Derived I think largely from the post 2017 OSR (I think Blue Medusa - let’s not talk about it - or Hotspring Islands - which is fine - were the harbingers of this period). There’s little fidelity to the systems or aesthetic of old games, but some interest in the feel – leading to a lot of ultralights. In many ways it’s a very exciting area of post-OSR design, some interesting stuff, but also a real step away from hobby cooperation/community and toward small business/brand. The downside of this that its scene seems more commercially focused, with social worth and engagement derived from publication and a corresponding pressure to constantly publish small works. This corrodes interaction and introspection as its harder to get feedback on paid work, harder to produce longer works, and gives a perverse incentive to claim credit and conceal ideas until they are converted into marketable product.

Then there’s other often smaller groups based around system or play style out there - GLOG, FKR etc.

I don’t know how good my breakdown is, I suspect I’m missing a lot.

Also not sure where I fit into it really - I like to think of myself as part of one of those small groups, but my design sensibilities are all over the place. I will snark at system for lacking functional encumbrance mechanics, but snarl at an adventure for being about murdering a bunch of evil orcs in their sad hole house … I guess all I can say is I like to play and write classic dungeon adventures, with a growing insistence of procedural rigor, but little fidelity to old mechanics and disdain Gygaxian vernacular fantasy as an aesthetic?

It’ll be cool to see what reliquaries the bones of the OSR end up in.


This might deserve its own thread, if you’d like to repost this as one.


@GusL thanks for spelling that out, it’s great to hear the perspectives from someone who has been in the scene for a while.

It’s interesting to think about where we all fit in to that. Like, I definitely have no nostalgia for the old days and am interested in how story game stuff and OSR stuff can interact. I like light systems but am drawn to procedures and do like a bit of crunch… And I like the grit, mess, and amateurness of the old OSR.

I think the splintering is largely good because the diversity is good for having all kinds of cool stuff from many perspectives. For a while it seemed like OSR was approaching being a monolith (from an outsider’s perspective)


In my experience of story games there’s far more desirability to engaging with the mechanics

Yes, and furthermore the Storygames movement encourages a strong belief that any game is about what it has mechanisms for, and anything else you do through freeform roleplaying is fine but isn’t what the game is about.

It took me a long time (and a read of The Elusive Shift) to realize that what Classic games did was mechanize what would be most likely to result in arguments at the table rather than what the game is about, leaving that to the imagination of the GM.

The OSR started with that Classic approach, and some newer more modern OSR games have been embracing a bit of an overlap and I LOVE IT.


No quibbles here, though I do sometimes question how much of the OSR approach (even the old forum OSR) is new reinventions of a playstyle over the wargame expectations that seem to have predominated at Lake Geneva and the move towards trad structured narratives that appears to have begun almost instantly at Cal Tech.

I greatly appreciate many of the OSR sensibilities but I increasingly wonder to what degree they are precisely like story games in that they are a 2000’s response to the “high trad” design of things like Vampire and Dragonlance. In other words (and I suspect that this is debatable if not unknowable) I suspect the OSR doesn’t emulate old play as much as invent a style of play that works with the relatively loose rules of old games? I am increasingly viewing original Gygaxian D&D as a sort of fantasy skirmish games on a board made of very constricted dungeon maps. Arneson’s Blackmoor is suspiciously even more the war-game. The OSR though may have consistently sought to break free of this sort of gamified combat-centric play style.