It was already two and a half years ago that Jim Raggi proclaimed that the OSR is better than TSR. Now Joseph Bloch is announcing OSR Phase II, claiming again that the OSR has come into its own. I think the question deserves some discussion.
I think that Joseph is right that the first phase is past. We've already had the rebirth of old school gaming. I think that this came through the retro-clones and the virtual rediscovery of OD&D and the exploration of old school play beyond the standard AD&D tournament dungeons. This brought methods of gaming and ideas for how rules should be structured back from the realm of the die-hard grognards (which I joined for a while back in high school). So I don't see the "renaissance" term as being really appropriate at this point. We are at a point of old school gaming, and as always the play is the thing. Hence the subtitle change on this blog.
Of course the OSR will continue to be a logo and so forth, just like Tactical Studies Rules was not a tactical wargame company but TSR continued as a brand for decades. But we're at a period where these things are relevant beyond our little circles, where Gary Gygax's sons are lending their names to a print magazine and the best seller on RPGNow is the Moldvay Basic D&D rulebook, and the next version of D&D has to pay attention to old school mentality and try to win players of that style back. Old school gaming is a thing in the RPG scene. Hardly the only thing, but we've carved out something and that's valuable.
For me, that means that the epoch of the retro-clone is over. It's no longer enough to restate the rules of any version of D&D or any other older RPG, or really to put out derivative dungeons that are like the tournaments of old. We have those now - in PDF, cheap, not just for collectors like me who don't mind paying more for a 30 year old adventure than I would for a brand new one. (Not that PDF ever stopped a good collection before.) Clones are more ambitious, but like Adventurer Conqueror King they retain the bad habit of restating the whole rulebook to change a handful of things. I think that's something we need to overcome.
In terms of product support things have been up and down. Settings are relatively a weak point, although the truth has always been that most gamers make their own settings, so this is understandable. I think there's more space for cities and villages, and for "city kits" like Vornheim, than for settings proper. I don't think there is too much room for more settings unless they are aiming for uniqueness like the Red Tide setting. (Isle of the Unknown is an exception; I consider it more of a collection of encounters than a setting as such.) I've already gone over megadungeons which I think tells most of what I'm interested in at this point in terms of adventure modules.
What I think we're really missing is the monster books. There were two relatively early products that were successful monster books, Monsters of Myth and Malevolent & Benign. Since then where are the volumes of new creatures? The Swords & Wizardry monster book had a few good offerings but it's been pretty dry territory. I think this is a shame, as there is a pressing need for more quality monsters, especially unique creatures over generic humanoids - even though we could really use some novel ones of those. How many kobolds, goblins, orcs, hobgoblins, bugbears, and gnolls have met their ends at the hands of adventurers?
That's a project I want to find people willing to collaborate on. I think if we do it right, there could be another really excellent book of monsters, and I want to elaborate a bit more on that in my next post. If a monster book gets off the ground, I would really like to follow up with a project like Petty Gods that would actually get off the ground. But one thing at a time. Next: monster book.