Monday, July 18, 2011

Advanced Dungeons & Dragons VS OSRIC

AD&D is honestly my game of choice. It's what I started with and most of my creative energy has went into writing for AD&D. I don't know if its's the High Gygaxian writing, nostalgia, or something more numinous but given the choice this is what I play. Trouble is noone else in my area used to play 1e. So noone else has the books. 

So I've run some OSRIC campaigns for some time. But OSRIC is different enough from 1e (for copyright purposes) as to not be fully compatible. I mean it's as compatible as you can get, and changes are easy enough to make if your converting from one to the other. But trying to run a game where I use 1e resources and the players use OSRIC just doesn't work. There are enough differences that they come up quite frequently. So I have to end up defering to OSRIC or imposing the rules from my more official rulebooks.

Lately I began to compile a list of differences between the two. Thinking maybe I was overexagerating the extent of the differences. But I'm not. I stopped looking after I had filled up one whole page of differences before I had reached page 50 in OSRIC 2.0. Now, I understand why these differences have to be there. I'm not faulting the game or the designers for that. OSRIC works great to produce compatible resources for 1e without violating copyright. But it presents a unique situation gaming for the future of 1e gaming. And I think this same situation applies to all retro clones.

One can buy OOP 1e PHBs online fairly cheap. They run from as little as $5 to as much as $50 depending on condition and the seller's disposition. But they can usually be bought for under $15 So why not have players just buy the PHBs and call it good? That might work if I had a fixed set of gamers in my gaming group. But I run the RPG club for the school where I teach. We cater to 20 or so younger gamers and add 10 new gamers each year. And even though we have a club libary for member use, players inevitably want their own copies of the rules. For these new, young players to look online to buy OOP books is a bit much. It just hasn't worked.

Which I believe speaks to a larger problem in the OS community. If we expect to bring new gamers into the fold to play OS games they are going to be relegated to using clones instead of the originals. I suppose this isn't a problem in and of itself. Retro clones tend to strive to preserve the spirit of the originals at least. But it forces those of us who prefer and still have our original books to make the change to the clones as well. And as much as I like what OSRIC is doing I prefer to game with my old 1e books.

The result is the inevitable extinction of 1e gaming regardless of our efforts to preserve it. Sure there are those groups that have always played 1e out there, who's players own all the books and are still going strong. But new groups have this unique and not insignificant problem. And this is true for all the retro clones from what I can see. Buying the OOP source materials is not nearly as easy as just printing off a free retro clone.

I have read through numerous clones now and I'm sorry, none of them scream play me. Lots of people prefer the neater presentation and organization of the clones, but I just can't get into them like I get into my originals. The closest it came was LoTFP. Raggi's artistic presentation was captivating and the tone of his hype about the game (very dark fantasy) had me really hoping this would be "it". Until I read the rules. The rules were a rather stale presentation of Basic D&D. Now, to be fair I haven't read all the books, just the free download.

Now, I can't say that about the retro-variants. Retro-variants are new games taking their inspiration from D&D and the Old School in general. But they have taken their creativity in new directions. They invite players to play a new game, and to join in a new vision. Some of the masterpieces in this field that I have found imminently intriguing are:
  • Hackmaster Basic
  • Castles & Crusades
  • Dungeon Crawl Classics
In these beauties we have something truly special. Number one they have staying power. These are games with weight behind them. They also each present a new spin or angle or experience that is unique from what has come before. Their writing and production is top notch. And not coincidentally I think you have experienced writers who have strong connections with early gaming and early gaming icons. Jolly Blackburn, Dave Kenzer, Stephen Chenault, and Joseph Goodman. If you ask me this is where the future lies. And granted there are some other less known retro-variants out there that deserve a bit of attention, but they don't quite shine like these three above.

So, in the debate of OSRIC vs AD&D. My answer might be, play Castles & Crusades, or Hackmaster or give the new DCC RPG a look. I wonder if the future of OS is not in looking back, but looking forward. I know for the next little while before the gaming season starts once again, I'll be doing some serious looking myself.
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