2016 has a bad reputation around the Internet because of celebrities dying and certain things about elections, but as far as old school gaming, "good" would be an understatement. It was a pretty phenomenal year.
First and foremost, 2016 saw the publication of Maze of the Blue Medusa. Not just the best RPG product of the year, it's one of the seminal products in the whole OSR, an adventure with such dense and imaginative ideas that you could get lost in it for years. Just the wandering monsters in the book are a revelation, much less the hundreds of keyed areas. Patrick Stuart is one of the most creative voices working in old school gaming today, and the book clearly benefited from both Zak S's artwork and his relentless dedication to doing things extremely well. Also, its layout is revolutionary and sets new standards for RPGs.
A thing I like but haven't talked about much is The Black Hack. This was released in March and quickly created its own ecosystem of products. Black Hack is a stripped-down, ultra-light clone of D&D that incorporates a number of clever ideas for streamlining play. I am particularly fond of its usage die concept for abstract handling of expendable items, where a die reduces in size as the item is used up. This squares well with things like arrows and abstract combat. My favorite particular supplement for the Black Hack is a bestiary called Waste-Land Beasts and How to Kill Them. It's a terrific collection of post-apocalyptic nasties with some great illustrations.
Maze of the Blue Medusa winning out on the product front overshadows some great adventures. Misty Isles of the Eld is a psychedelic sandbox addition from the Hydra Cooperative. Lamentations of the Flame Princess delivered both Rafael Chandler's World of the Lost (a dinosaur romp in Africa aimed directly at my heart) and Jeff Rients's Broodmother SkyFortress, each of which could have won product of the year accolades in some other year. They even overshadow the new Carcosa modules by Geoffrey McKinney, which were good but could have been incredible with some art and layout work.
The Swords & Wizardry Whitebox ecosystem also put up some great work. One that I particularly think is going to create some great convention play is WWII: Operation Whitebox. This is a special forces-oriented game that I am hoping to run in convention play. White Star also got a Companion that, I think, elevates it over the original game considerably and makes it a really solid engine for sci-fi gaming.
Bruce Heard, formerly of Mystara, released Calidar: Beyond the Skies, a god-focused product that mingles story and supplement in the style of the Princess Ark stories from Dragon magazine. Autarch released Lairs & Encounters for its Adventurer Conqueror King system, which provides a valuable assortment of monster lairs that can fit into a hexcrawl.
So yeah, 2016 was a good one for the old school. What is on the horizon for 2017?
A couple of new system books loom. Swords & Wizardry Complete will enter its 3rd edition, with an improved layout and a new cover and an awesome all-woman team doing the update. Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea will release a second edition. And Jim Wampler's Mutant Crawl Classics is due out from Goodman Games. All of those have a chance to redefine the landscape for the next year.
I'm hopeful that a couple of delayed adventure projects will hit this year. Ernie Gygax and Benoist Poire's Marmoreal Tomb would be a big one, particularly for people like me with a lot of cash in the release. And it's looking like Jim Ward's Epsilon City for Metamorphosis Alpha will also hit this year, making that an officially thorough system.
I'm excited for Clint Krause's The Driftwood Verses, a sea-drenched adventure done up for LotFP (but not an LotFP release) and the Hydra Collective's Operation Unfathomable. Not to mention that Patrick Stuart could just win another year's releases if Veins of the Earth comes out from LotFP and lives up to the reputation that he and Scrap Princess have built with DCO and Fire on the Velvet Horizon.
And that's just what we already have a bead on for the coming year. The OSR has been firing on all cylinders for three years now, and it shows no signs of slowing down. So grab your dice and buckle up, it should be a good one.