Thursday, January 12, 2012

The OSR

Please note that this is an older post--it may be a bit out of date.

The Old School Renaissance

Some time ago, Wizards of The Coast purchase TSR and the Dungeons & Dragons trademark. They quickly came out with a 3rd edition of the game using their very streamlined d20 system. And there was of course a roar of dissaproval from many who bemoaned another change in edition. There were, however, many players ready for a change and 3rd edition met that need. After a rocky start and a reboot with edition 3.5 WoTC was earning lots of fans. And they decided to take advantage of the passionate creativity among their consumer base and produced what was called the Open Gaming License and the System Reference Document. The OGL allowed certain portions of the D&D system rules to be used in producing third party content for the game. The SRD could be used as a basic skeleton of the rules that could be considered a universal key of compatibility for the game. This move was a generous act of magnaminity in light of TSRs historical jealousy regarding their product line. Though some industry commentators simply said WoTC saw the writing on the wall from previous lawsuits and that only content not rules could be copyrighted. Therefore they saw the OGL and the SRD as WoTC grasping the initiative and being the first to set the parameters of the playing field. Either way, the OGL and the SRD were an enormous expression of goodwill from a company to its fanbase.

And the fanbase took them up on their invitation with gusto. 3.5 saw more fan-based material than any edition to date. Some grew weary with this as so much material flooded the market, much of it of dubious quality as best, that it was hard to distinguish the wheat from the chafe. Whatever you make of this period it was a remarkable statement as to the native creativity of the gaming crowd. And some of this creativity was finding a unique expression. From the vapid debates of internet fora, the crowded and noisy counters of FLGSs across the nation, and the smoke filled taverns after convention closing hours a revolution was brewing. Not so much a revolution as a reclaiming of what was lost, a recreation of the past glories of gaming that now seemed lost.

Old school games such as 0e, 1e, 2e, Basic/Expert, and more were no longer supported actively by the commerical market. Yet there were still players of these versions, and a community thirsting for new product. There was literally D&D 3.5 everywhere but not a drop of old school to drink. If you were going to play old school games you had to hunt them up in used bookstores, on ebay or online used book sites. That is until Matt Finch and Stuart Marshall took a leap and using the OGL developed a clone of the first edition rules. They called this clone OSRIC and it was to the first of many retro clones to seek to replicate old school style of roleplaying.

I'm not sure what Matt and Stuart's initial intentions were, but the renaissance that erupted shortly after their work has certainly been beyond even their dreams. So many new games have been produced, so many new game publishers have set up shop, so many new players have been brought to old schoolstyle of play, and so many who had left returned in such a short time that the world revolution isn't too big to apply to what is happening in gaming today, what has come to be called The Old School Renaissance or OSR.

Truly it is easy to be overwhelmed with the OSR. Keeping up with the quickly growing, vibrant Old School movement can be daunting to say the least. The good news is there are more options and support for play than ever before. I provide you here with a small list of the games that I update as much as possible. If you know of others that should be added to the list, please let me know. I have learned by sad dint of trying, it is almost impossible to keep up with them all.

To be clear, all of these games are basically variations on the most popular game known to man: Dungeons & Dragons. If you are a oldster who has been out of the loop for a time looking to get back into the hobby, a modern gamer who wants a taste of how it used to be done, or a youngster wanting to know how it was done back in the day, you will hopefully find this page useful. The world of the OSR is vast and ever growing and changing. But this is a good thing. It is the playground of gamers who have longed to build their own system, and the fertile ground of new old school material.

Note: The definition of a retro-clone is a bit fuzzy at best. Many of these games are more appropriately called retro-variants. But basically all of them seek to emulate D&D play to one degree or another; or they rely heavily on the basic structure of D&D at least as a starting point.

Swords & Wizardry The whitebox edition rules seek to emulate OD&D. The fourth printing is more of a variant that includes distinctions between race and class and includes the thief.

Microlite 74 also has ML 75 which includes lots of supplemental material too. Both are early 0e clones.

Delving Deeper Brave Halflings version of 0e. Attempting to "more accurately" replicate 0e rules than ohter clones to date.

Labyrinth Lord is a well known and widely played clone of Basic D&D published by Goblinoid Games. It also is close to 0e play, as Basic D&D was itself.

Labyrinth Lord 0 edition Characters Supplement is a tweak on LL rules to more closely simulate 0e play.

Labyrinth Lord Advanced Edition Companion which is Labyrinth Lord's representation of a sort of halfway point between 0e and 1e. It is billed as AD&D the way mosty of us played it. That is without much of the extra rules.

The Big Brown Book focuses on Chainmail-like 0e style play

Dragons at Dawn is modeled after the style of play Dave Arneson perfered. A style that might be called pre 0e D&D.

Spellcraft & Swordplay 0e with an alternate combat system.

Meepo's Holmes Companion not a true standalone game but an extension of the Holmes Basic set.

Basic Fantasy RPG is a somewhat modern take on Basic play using d20 mechanics.

B/X Companion designed to extend Moldvay / Cook B/X play

Lamentations of the Flame Princess A high quality Basic/0e game done in Dark Fantasy style

The Holmes Treasury

OSRIC The Old School Reference Index Compilation designed to emulate 1e play.

Hackmaster 4e Need I say more? This was done as a special project that began as a satiric model of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons; and ended up being one of the best games ever made. Check out my Hackmaster page for more info.

Myth & Magic a slightly revised and updated clone of 2e.

Adventures Dark and Deep a 1.5e retro clone

For Gold & Glory a close 2e retro clone currently in production

AD&D 3rd Edition was really an attempt at 2.5, but was pulled due to copyright violations

Castles & Crusades A highly popular and professional game that can properly be called a game in and of itself. The mechanics is a streamlined d20 version of AD&D, that plays much like the older games.

Mazes & Minotaurs A Greek setting for what is close to Basic play

Retro Phaze: A unique little game designed to emulate early 16 bit computer role playing games that actually plays a lot like basic D and D

Fire & Sword

Dangers and Dweomers

Siege Perilous

ZeFRS

Astonishing Swordsmen and Sorcerers of Hyperborea: A Swords and Sorcery D and D clone currently in production.

Crypts and Things: A Swords & Sorcery D and D clone that uses Swords and Wizardry rules modified to more closely align with early Swords and Sorcery Fantasy literature.

Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG A beautiful offering from Goodman Games that seeks to emulate the style of play canonized in Appendix N of the DMG. Though basically 0e in structure many new mechanics set it apart as a distinct variant.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

I've heard the term and this was a good writeup.

Thanks for the info

Chris said...

No problem. This was actually written over a year ago, and it's still a bit rough. Glad you found it worthwhile. And thanks for stopping by.