So, for about a year now, I’ve been following the Old School Renaissance movement in gaming. While the movement itself sometimes has a hard time pinning down what they’re all about, as an interested outsider I think I can offer some perspective. In short, Old School Renaissance gaming:
- Is motivated and inspired by the TSR versions of Dungeons & Dragons (essentially everything published before 3E).
- Isn’t just a bunch of neckbeards in their basements clinging to their moldy outdated rulesets. These folks not only enjoy older editions of D&D, they also learn things from other games (including the newer editions of Dungeons & Dragons).
- Is comprised, at least in part, of people who want to improve on older D&D. So, you have not only retroclone rule sets (i.e., rule sets that directly mimic a particular version of D&D such as the Basic/Expert set or First Edition AD&D) but you have games that incrementally advance the rule systems and take them in new directions.
- Isn’t just about roleplaying over “roll-playing.” While there are some in the OSR movement who would have you believe that their ilk are the best of the best when it comes to story elements, the fact is that there are just as many hack-and-slashers in the OSR movement as in newer editions.
- Is a somewhat insular community. On average, OSR folks aren’t out there on message boards bashing Dungeons & Dragons 4E. In fact, many are only peripherally aware there is a D&D 4E. They’re more concerned with playing the game they love. They haven’t followed D&D, for the most part, since before 3E.
- Isn’t just old guys. There are some younger gamers in the OSR movement, although I suspect the demographic skews toward those in their late 30s and 40s (just as the demographic for 4E skews to those in their 20s and early 30s). It’s not all nostalgia. There are those who came to OSR gaming after starting out on 3E or 4E.
- Offers a much-needed perspective to modern D&D players. I’m not suggesting that we all drop 4E or 3E and run out and play Labyrinth Lord. But I do think a dialogue about Dungeons & Dragons with the OSR folks is helpful. I know that my current 4E campaign has been highly affected (and, I hope, improved) by digging into the OSR. There are a number of areas – including things like length of combat, using skills to short-circuit puzzle solving or roleplaying, and more – that new school and old school gamers can dialogue about, and both can walk away with something positive.
Now, I realize I might be idealizing OSR gaming a little bit here. In the same way that there are WoW players who love D&D 4E, and in the same way that there are power gamers who love 3E, there are some grumpy old farts in the OSR movement. Like those other examples, however, I believe that they’re not indicative of the type.
I could give you a ton of OSR links, but rather than overwhelm you, let me give you just three sites to take a peek at:
- Retroclones and Older D&D Editions at EnWorld. Morrus offers a nice overview that, while he’s off on a handful of details, gives you the skinny on what’s what in OSR game products.
- Grognardia. James Maliszewski is probably the OSR’s most prolific blogger. I particularly involve his retrospectives, in which he examines old TSR products in the context of the modern OSR movement.
- Lamentations of the Flame Princess (NSFW) . James Raggi has built a “Weird Fantasy” RPG based on Basic D&D rules. He makes some interesting changes – like using a d6 skill system, for example – but overall LotFP feels like Basic D&D. The art is edgy (hence the NSFW tag) and sometimes disturbing, but it really evokes a unique feel that fits with old-school Dungeons & Dragons. I’ve actually been playing this one and having a blast with it.
So, what about you? Any readers identify with the OSR? Anyone skeptical?