Friday, February 1, 2013

We've had the Renaissance - What Now?

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.


  1. Check out the Teratic Tome by Rafael Chandler (available in pdf on and hardcopy on Some very inventive monsters in there.

    Later this year, you'll also find a lot of new creatures in the Adventures Dark and Deep Bestiary, along with almost all of the monsters from the original MM, MM2, and FF.

    Adventures Dark and Deep probably isn't your cup of tea, since it started with a restatement of the 1E rules and applies the changes Gygax was planning in the mid-80's, but you'll probably find some stuff you'll like and/or use.

  2. Joseph, I actually know about the Teratic Tome. It sounds interesting and I do intend to pick it up once Lulu offers a coupon code again (the hardcover should look great on my shelf). I intend to go a lot more in depth on what I want out of a monster book, and it's quite a bit different from the Teratic Tome.

    For what it's worth, I like that you put out A Curious Volume of Forgotten Lore before Adventures Dark and Deep. It's a good move to make your ideas and innovations accessible to people who don't want to commit to the full thing. And I absolutely will pick up your bestiary, I am nothing if not a sucker for monster books.

  3. Well, if history is our guide, first comes decadence, then reformation, then oounter-reformation, and finally enlightenment.

    At which point the OSR will be Modern.

  4. I really hope that like Champions, the D&D license will be sold to an OSR fan who likes the brand and wants to keep it alive. I could see the brand in the hands of Matt Finch or Jason Vey....

  5. Hideouts & Hoodlums should have a Mobster Manual by the end of 2014, if you can wait that long.

  6. You make a good point about "restating the whole rulebook to change a handful of things". LotFP could have been written as a series of house rules suggestions and it might have gotten some buzz. Instead, it was released as a new game with boobies on the cover and now it's the darling of the OSR. Same with DCC. It was created as a means to sell adventures that used to be written for D&D but it's sufficiently different that they can't be easily converted from one to another. There is a financial incentive for people to make their game similar-but-different.

    I'm afraid we're going to see the OSR fragmenting as each group has less and less in common.

    Monster books, for instance, are the worst as they are almost entirely dependent on rules systems. With Adventures, you can convert the monsters but use the maps and background unchanged. If a monster book is for another system, you might as well write them up yourselves.

    1. @Hedgehobbit

      I feel like all of these systems are really pretty interoperable, especially for those who like to tinker to begin with. And game systems are not like software where things literally will not talk to other. I happily use tables, monster, and modules from all the different lines you mentioned without any problems. So short of personality clashes or something like that, I really don't see much fragmentation coming from rules.

      Then again, I ran Pod-Caverns of the Sinister Shroom for my 4E group when I was still playing that, converting the 1E monsters to 4E on the fly, so maybe I'm weird.

    2. When the clones first started proliferating, people made the same prediction about the community fragmenting, and sure, there was some tribalism but if anything the old school community developed a better sense of self-identity through much discussion and self-introspection.

      Those forums dedicated to a single retro-clone have lost momentum over the last couple of years (see this thread here), while those focused on D&D itself have either continued along the status quo or have grown in activity. This suggests to me that the community has realised that the clones are all just D&D. Or in other words, rather than fragment the clones have the effect of making the OSR and wider old school community a stronger, more cohesive thing.

  7. Thanks, Wayne. That was precisely the purpose of Forgotten Lore; to give people who were happy playing OSRIC or 1E or LL an option short of buying yet another 3-book set.

    Of course, it doesn't hurt that it also gives folks a taste for what is in said 3-book set. Hopefully at least some people will like what they see enough to want to see the complete version in all its glory. :-)

  8. I think we need some really innovative monsters coupled with a fresh setting. What comes to mind is uniqueness of Edgar Rice Burroughs' Mars novels.

    I believe the ERB material is still under copyright, so we OSR folks cannot duplicate that for profit, but we can create our own.

    Another problem I've hoped OSR could help solve is getting kids (like my own) away from the PS-3 and over to the tabletop. My kids will play tabletop games but none of their friends will.

    I'm not a prude, BTW. I get a kick out of console games, but there really is a stark difference.


  9. Seriously? I wonder where were these people and what did they do while many of us continued to play Basic D&D in the lean forgotten years when TSR was no more and no one cared about Basic D&D anymore? In my opinion this article, and others I've seen like it, are just so much pretentious self invention and posturing. It has all the appeal of market trend research. Common sense would say, hey I've been playing this game all along and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

    1. I was running Greyhawk games when TSR died, so you can get off your high horse. I look at it as taking old school play styles out of the rarefied environs of the few die-hards who played it all along, and making it into a growing, active community with fresh material coming out all the time.

  10. Would a unified universal set of rules be next written by many people? A set of base races and classes that could be added too and always be free? It would be free of the class/race restrictions but a GM could add them back in for story.

    With hundreds of writers there would be thousands of monsters to be released. Thousands of spells.

    There of course would have to be a council that would make the final decisions of what would be the framework and what would be in the game.

  11. Campaign Settings. Universal ones, that's where the future lies.


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