I had a thread about the World of Darkness, Eclipse Phase, and Pathfinder RPG. I might as well create one about another popular tabletop trend: old school gaming, specifically retroclones and emulators of Dungeons & Dragons. This is a work in progress; feel free to add your own suggestions, explanations, and advice if I missed anything.
The Old School Renaissance is basically an online, fan-driven pseudo-movement of gamers and game designers of pre-3rd Edition D&D systems. Back in 2004, Troll Lord Games published Castles & Crusades,
combining old school elements with 3rd Edition rules. It was a simpler variant to D20, and while flawed in parts (the SIEGE engine's bell curve, for example), it harkened back to a role-playing aesthetic of past decades.
A group of British gamers figured that if old school rules could be published under the OGL (Open Gaming License), then they could do the same with the 1st Edition of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. And so OSRIC
(Old School Reference and Index Compilation) was born. It's purpose was to legally provide publishers a tool to produce gaming material of the underlying rule set.
And it worked!
Over the course of several years fellow gamers followed suit, producing their own rulesets, Edition retroclones, adventures, and supplemental material for their favorite versions of Dungeons & Dragons. Quite a bit are little more than Open Game variants of said Editions (such as Labyrinth Lord and Swords & Wizardry), but just as many applied new and creative spins to make the games truly their own. For example, Lamentations of the Flame Princess uses the Basic D&D rules, but with a gritty Weird Fantasy vibe in both mechanics and flavor. Adventurer Conqueror King System centers around the player characters eventually becoming the rulers of domains and kingdoms.
The OSR isn't an official organization or singular website; it's more of a loose confederation of tabletop gamers with similar tastes. The "starting point" of the movement is rather vague, some thinking it grew from people dissatisfied with Castles & Crusades, others figure the term first came up on the Dragonsfoot forums.Tell me about the games!
Well, there's an awful lot of retroclones out there already, and listing them all would take a large portion of text. I can, however, list some of the more popular ones for the time being. One of the OSR's strengths is the interchangeability of its rules. Retroclones modeled after Basic D&D, for example, share a lot in common and it's easy enough for a GM to transfer an adventure, monster, or other game element from one retroclone to their preferred choice.A Comprehensive List of Dungeons & Dragons retroclones can be found here
The self-described Rosetta Stone of Old-School Fantasy Role-Playing Games, Labyrinth Lord
is an OGL version of 1982 Basic D&D. It has the most 3rd party support of old school retroclones, and is available in a free no-art version for download. Also available in an "Advanced Edition Compendium" for 1st Edition AD&D fans.Dark Dungeons
is a straightforward and faithful retroclone of the BECMI version of Dungeons & Dragons. The title's a reference to the infamous 1980s Jack Chick comic strip.Lamentations of the Flame Princess
is a modified version of Basic D&D for a more horrific Weird Fantasy vibe. Combat is far more dangerous, magic is the domain of madmen trafficking with otherworldly entities, and all monsters are rare creatures not understood or known by man. The majority of experience is earned through obtaining treasure and not combat, and combat is indeed very dangerous. Available in a free no-art version on Drive-Thru RPG and RPGNow.Swords & Wizardry
is based off of the Original version of Dungeons & Dragons, all the way back in 1974. Is a more streamlined and straightforward version, with emphasis on minimalist elements of play to encourage creativity and customization. As of a successful Kickstarter it is now free to the public. Link here.Adventurer Conqueror King System
is much like any straightforward fantasy RPG, except that the PCs gain increased power and influence as they gain levels. Characters returning from a successful adventure are encouraged to use their wealth and fame to establish ties in the local community, and there is a well-designed and in-depth system to support domain building. In addition to ruling regions and baronies, PCs gain specific political benefits: thieves can run their own guilds, mages can build their own dungeons and breed magical monsters, et cetera. Additionally, it's the most balanced retroclone in terms of classes. Martial classes such as the fighter can cleave through hordes of enemies, while some of the more world-altering spells are toned down.Dungeon Crawl Classics
uses its own rules system, and emulates the super-lethal early years of D&D along with some weird fantasy elements (think Lovecraft mixed with Conan). Players generate multiple level 0 characters at once in a process known as the "character creation funnel," and those lucky enough to survive the first adventure become the PCs! Each class has its own special ability: fighters can pull of awesome stunts with the Mighty Deed of Arms, Thieves gain a Luck die to pull them out of tight spots, Clerics can beseech their deity for favors, and Magic-Users can overload on spell energy for short-term gain, long-term pain!Beyond the Wall and Other Adventures
is inspired by the works of Ursula K. LeGuin and Lloyd Alexander, where the heroes are coming-of-age adolescents who venture beyond the safety of their village on their first big journey.Scarlet Heroes
is a retroclone which takes place in the Red Tide setting, inspired by fantasy elements of Southeast Asia. The ruleset is designed for 1 Dungeon Master and one Player Character in mind.Helpful LinksGrey Six Retroclones List:
By far the most comprehensive list of old school retroclones I've found on the Internet.Swords & Wizardry SRD:
Online database of game mechanics from the aforementioned retroclone.The Grand OGL Wiki [Labyrinth Lord]:
All of the Open Gaming Content from the Labyrinth Lord Retroclone.Quick Primer for Old School Gaming:
A mini-booklet written for the more modern breed of tabletop gamer as an introduction into the play style of old-school games.Drive-Thru RPG's OSR Section:
The largest webstore for RPG downloads has its own section for retroclones and their supplements.Sine Nomine Publishing:
A very good game designer, Kevin Crawford's responsible for some of the most original and best-selling content for old-school games. He created the Spears of the Dawn RPG, which draws upon elements of fantasy Africa (the authentic well-researched kind, not the old-timey stereotypes); the Red Tide Campaign Setting, an Asian-themed sandbox setting for Labyrinth Lord; and Stars Without Number, a space opera game.
Sine Nomine's currently working on the Scarlet Heroes RPG, specifically designed for 1 player, 1 Dungeon Master. Sounds perfect for Elliquiy! Community Websites and BlogsOSR Today:
The OSR's news outlet.Dragonsfoot:
The largest fan community of 1st Edition AD&D, the Dragonsfoot forums also have a lively discussion of retroclone games.Original D&D Discussion:
Dedicated to the first version of D&D, as well as other popular 1970s table-top games. Have a retroclone subforum, too!Tenkar's Tavern:
A blog which keeps up with news and events in the OSR community. Notable for being a watchdog of sorts on old-school-themed Kickstarter projects.Bat in the Attic:
Good network and collection of other OSR sites and blogs, in a survey here.Grognardia:
A now-defunct blog, James Maliszewski wrote a lot of historical articles of D&D products and news from the 70s and 80s. People recommend starting with his oldest entries first.Jeff's Gameblog:
An infrequently updated yet must-read blog, Jeff Rients has no shortage of entertaining articles.