What is Old School Gaming?

The Old School Revival, Old School Renaissance, or simply OSR, is a movement among players of tabletop role-playing games (especially Dungeons & Dragons) that draws inspiration from the very earliest editions of D&D.


As of December 2013, according to the ENWorld Hot Games tracker the OSR made up 2.16% of D&D discussion on the internet.


History


The OSR was made possible by the OGL and the relaxed issues with copyright that it allowed. Either Castles & Crusades, or the Old School Index and Resource Compilation (better known as OSRIC), is considered to be the earliest OSR games and it includes most Dungeons & Dragons retro-clones. Other games considered part of the OSR include Monsters & Magic, Lamentations of the Flame Princess Weird Fantasy Role-Playing, and sometimes Dungeon World.


Dungeons & Dragons retro-clones are fantasy role-playing games that seek to emulate editions of Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) no longer supported by Wizards of the Coast. They are mostly made possible by the terms of the Open Game License and System Reference Document, which allows the use of much of the proprietary terminology of D&D that might otherwise collectively constitute a copyright infringement. While these rules lack the name D&D or any of the associated trademarks, their intent is to have a playable experience similar to those older editions.


A portion of long-time D&D fans prefer earlier editions to the current one and continue to play them. In addition, new games have been published which address the perceived inability of newer editions to preserve the tone of classic D&D while still fixing some of the faulty rules of older versions. Castles & Crusades is one such example, utilizing the unified d20 mechanic of 3rd Edition while dropping what are often perceived as complications (Feats, Skills, Prestige Classes, etc.).


Role-playing game publisher Matthew Finch was involved in the development of Castles & Crusades, serving as editor of the Player’s Handbook, and was the initial author of OSRIC, which was afterward taken up by Stuart Marshall and released to the public in 2006 as a retro-clone of the first edition of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (1977–1989). The release was met with minor online controversy, and served to prompt another game designer, Daniel Proctor, to write and release Labyrinth Lord in 2007, a more complete retro-clone of the 1981 version of the Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set and its accompanying Expert Set. The following year, Finch announced the release of Swords & Wizardry, ostensibly a retro-clone of the original Dungeons & Dragons game.


Many variants have appeared since the original release of OSRIC, as well as restatements of other editions of D&D and other adventure role-playing games. The games are fostered and supported online by various forums and blogs, sometimes collectively referred to as the Old School Renaissance (OSR), but are also increasingly finding their way into brick and mortar game stores.


Notable Retro-Clones


OSRIC


OSRIC, short for Old School Reference and Index Compilation, describes itself as “a compilation of rules for old school-style fantasy gaming…intended to reproduce underlying rules used in the late 1970s to early 1980s”. Although OSRIC never refers to this directly for legal reasons, it is intended to reproduce the rules of the first edition of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons.

The purpose of OSRIC is to provide publishers with a tool to legally produce gaming materials compatible with the non-copyrightable aspects of the underlying rules set. Gaming materials described as OSRIC-compatible alert potential users those materials may be compatible with the rules of late 1970s and early 1980s AD&D.


The initial version of OSRIC was released in 2006. The latest version, OSRIC v. 2.0, was released in 2008.


As of 2009, more than seventy-five products describe themselves as “OSRIC-compatible”.


Labyrinth Lord


Labyrinth Lord (LL) is a retro-clone written and edited by Daniel Proctor and published by Goblinoid Games. LL takes its inspiration from the 1981 Basic Set edited by Tom Moldvay and the accompanying Expert Set by David “Zeb” Cook.


Any adventure written to be played with classic D&D can be run using LL with little or no adjustment. However, there are a few differences between the two games. It extends the rules so characters can advance to 20th level (the 1981 Expert Set only included levels up to 14). In addition, in a nod to Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, clerics receive spells at first level.


Basic Fantasy RPG


Basic Fantasy RPG is a retro-clone written by Chris Gonnerman that emulates, and is largely compatible with, the 1981 Basic and Expert sets. Its differences from B/X D&D include d20-style ascending armor class and separation of character race and class. It was first released in 2007, and updated in 2008. The game has been positively received.


Swords & Wizardry


Swords & Wizardry (S&W), developed by Mythmere Games, emulates the original 1974 edition of Dungeons & Dragons. Swords & Wizardry won the Silver for the 2009 ENnie Award for Best Free Product.


Dark Dungeons


Dark Dungeons has as its primary inspiration the 1991 Dungeons & Dragons Rules Cyclopedia, with secondary inspiration (particularly for the cosmology of the default game setting) coming from the 1989 Spelljammer campaign setting. The name Dark Dungeons and the names of the sample characters (and their players) found in examples throughout the text are used in parody of the Chick Tract of the same name.


Because Dark Dungeons emulates the Dungeons & Dragons Rules Cyclopedia, which itself contains collected and edited rules from the Basic, Expert, Companion, and Master sets published from 1983–1985, it is strongly compatible with most adventures and supplements designed for those sets. However, while Dark Dungeons does include rules for immortal level play, those rules are primarily inspired by the 1993 Wrath of the Immortals supplement to the Rules Cyclopedia and are therefore not readily compatible with adventures and supplements designed for the 1985 Immortals Set.


For Gold & Glory


For Gold & Glory is a retro-clone of the AD&D 2nd edition rules from 1989. It was first published in 2012, and was written by Justen Brown and edited by Moses Wildermuth. It is available as a free per download, or as a print-on-demand book.


Castles & Crusades


Castles & Crusades (abbreviated “C&C”) is a fantasy role-playing game published in 2004 by Troll Lord Games based upon a stripped-down variant of the d20 System by Wizards of the Coast. The game system is designed to emulate the play of earlier editions of the Dungeons & Dragons game while keeping the unified mechanics of the d20 System.


Hackmaster Basic


HackMaster is a fantasy role-playing game produced by Kenzer & Company. Originally published in 2001, it began as a fictional game, a parody of the most ludicrous aspects of D&D played by the characters of the Knights of the Dinner Table comic strip by Jolly R. Blackburn. The characters in the comic began playing HackMaster 3rd Edition, which was updated to a numerously revised 4th edition, and it has been hinted the name of the game was originally changed for copyright reasons. The current edition has removed most of the parody aspects, and contains game mechanics written from scratch in order to avoid any intellectual property problems.


Periodicals


The following periodicals include retro-clone-compatible content: