Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Rick Priestley Talks Wisely On The Subject Of The OSR Without Even Knowing He Is Doing It

There's a really good interview here (WARNING PDF LINK!!!!) with Rick Priestley and John Stallard that was published in Battlegames in 2009. It's from when Rick was still working at GW. A lot of it is just three old wargamers reminiscing about the 1970s but there are some interesting bits in there about GW's approach to wargaming.

There's a fascinating passage here that I think, coming from the mouth of a pro games designer, is very illuminating about the rise of the OSR even though it's actually about wargaming and GW's approach to this:

"Wargaming really took off in the 1970s with people of our generation, so as 11 or 12-year-olds, we were growing up with wargaming, and then we were maturing. As teenagers mature, they go through various psychological stages. One of the things about kids in their mid-teens is their fantastic ability to absorb and to learn, but their utter inability to make generalizations or compromises. It’s something you only learn in later life. If you talk to mid-teenagers about rights or wrongs, their attitudes are very black and white. They really have no facility to make judgments. They don’t like judgments, especially boys. They simply don’t have the ability to develop those soft skills."

I was quite relieved to read this to be honest as I always thought my information retention skills had atrophied since puberty but apparently that's the same for everybody. It's why I hate long, complex rulebooks now in my 30s even though I was a sponge for such in my early teens. It would also explain the amazing popularity of some games that require the player to juggle many pieces of knowledge in his skull at any one time, such as exceptions to the main rules and "special abilities" and the like.

...for a certain section of teenagers, the fact that you had wargames rules was part of your social life, because you’ve got no ability to have any other kind of social life. You don’t have the soft skills. So when mid teenage boys interact with one another, the fact that they can do it with a set of rules, enables them to have a conversation, and do something together. It gives some common ground. But the rules become really important. For a more mature kind of individual, and, ironically, for a much younger individual, the rules can be quite soft. Because when you’re very young, you know how to play, and when you’re much older, you feel faintly embarrassed that you might have taken this or that much too seriously.

I think Rick hits the nail on the head here even though he isn't talking about D&D.

OK what he is actually talking about in the interview is a masterpiece of diplomacy. The subject of Warhammer being quite unsophisticated is obliquely not-quite mentioned, and Rick therefore doesn't quite justify, explain and apologise for it. What Rick sorts of hints at is that Warhammer was quite deliberately written in the style of wargaming Godfather Don Featherstone and aimed at the same sort of teenage boys who got into wargaming via his works (such as Priestley and Stallard) and was a deliberate move against the complex and allegedly sophisticated rules of the late 70s/early 80s but everybody is being just too nice to mention all that.


  1. Good find, and thanks for unpacking Rick's gentle criticism for us Coop.

    Love the Grav Attack header pic btw. It's symbolic of just how much WH40K has changed. Field something like that now and most of the tournament crowd would rupture something.

    Also, Dark Angels in black. Metal!

  2. That vehicle really brings back memories. Rogue Trader (not the new one). *sigh*

  3. I think that British Old School Revival has to be about playing Warhammer (RP, FB, and 40K) in the spirit and style of the early 1980s (with everything we've learned in the 30 years since then thrown in), and much as it should have anything to do with D&D. Much as I like D&D.

    So we're talking GM'd narrative scenarios / campaigns, endless bad puns, and random tables. And more than anything else, an acceptance of the suboptimal - characters / forces built around the narrative, and vice versa, rather than for maximal efficiency and efficacy.

    Speaking of the idea of gamers 'rupturing something', it seems that the random terrain tables in the new WFB are causing a bit of fuss among people who think WFB should be some abstract test of statistical prowess. Try telling them that there used to be random equipment tables! Or convincing a D&D4e player that they should roll their character on a series of tables, WFRP-style, and accept a an illiterate ratcatcher.

  4. 'as much as it should have anything to do with D&D'

  5. Wow! Awesome post sir!! This is really a great interview and your take on it is very informed and interesting as well.

    I have been driven away from GW games sadly because of the direction the company has taken. Its sad that the old guard is all gone now. Those guys were the heart and soul of the company and really gave it life. Not that GW isn't putting out good models still ... but to me that is about all they are putting out (and the occasional deviously fun pulpy black library offering). I haven't read White Dwarf in several years because its just terrible. Their rules and the "community" have gone so far away from what drew me into the hobby originally (and I have to admit I am a late comer to the game compared to many old timers ... I didn't get into GW until the late 90s). I caught just the tail end of the old GW ... it was dying out as I was coming into the hobby sadly. But now I look to other avenues in gaming and sort of wonder when the OSR is really going to start happening with mini gaming. I think there are loads of mom and pop game companies out there but is there as big of an OSR minis community as there is for RPGs? If so I haven't really found it.

  6. Hee. I liked that Priestly interview precisely because it unpacked so much of what Warhammer is about in its creator's eyes; far more informative than the HEY LOOK AT THE NEW AWESOME 'Designer's Notes' of the present age.