There was a discussion on Twitter the other day about the OSR and what this term actually means from a conceptual and philosophical perspective, as there’s no one single definition. Even what the acronym stands for changes depending on who you ask, from old school renaissance to old school revival and others. I wanted to set out my reasons for calling Runecairn an OSR game and explain what I mean in doing so.
I started playing tabletop RPGs in the 90s and had a long break until 2015 or so, so my experience won’t be the same as everyone. I’d first heard the term OSR from Ben Milton’s Questing Beast YouTube channel, in a video where he talked about “The 5 Best DnD Settings You’ve Never Heard Of.” Through that lens, OSR meant systems and settings inspired by classic D&D but updated with modern sensibilities (at least that’s how I read it). Things that I’d consider OSR these days are stuff like Cairn, Old School Essentials, Knave, Fallen.
When I started to hack Cairn into Runecairn, I carried across that definition. Runecairn uses a d20 roll under system, classes based roughly on the original D&D archetypes of fighter, thief, mage, and cleric, and framework of rules loosely based on old school D&D, though through a modern lens. To me, that makes it an OSR game.
I know not everyone would agree or call Cairn OSR (Yochai Gal, the creator of Cairn, actually calls it NSR, New School Revolution, after a post from Pandatheist), but this is how I see it in my head and how I’ve categorised it on DriveThruRPG and Itch.io, where it helps to have clear category and system definitions. I needed to list Runecairn in a rule system category when uploading it to DTRPG (or list it under the nebulous “any system / system-agnostic” category) and OSR made the most sense. From a sales perspective, having clear categories gives people a better chance to find my stuff, or have a quick understanding of what Runecairn is and isn’t.
Is OSR a philosophy, a concept, a marketing tag? All of the above? In the grand scheme of things, does it matter that I call Runecairn an OSR game? Nope. Call it OSR, call it indie, call it NSR. If it speaks to you, call it anything you want.