Days of High Adventure

Days of High Adventure
Full Circle: A History of the Old School Revival

James Maliszewski | 20 Aug 2009 21:00
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Meanwhile, Dragonsfoot continued to expand, thanks in part to the online presence of the late Gary Gygax, co-creator of D&D, who regularly answered questions about the game in the site forums. The site soon became the biggest online community dedicated to the out-of-print D&D, which retained a large and vocal fanbase despite the release of Third Edition. Dragonsfoot benefitted from these fans that had little interest in the latest version of the game, whose rules and aesthetics seemed very different from their own preferences. "Old school" Dungeons & Dragons thus found a home at Dragonsfoot and, in the process, spawned numerous other forums devoted to it, such as the Knights & Knaves Alehouse, which would eventually become very influential in the history of the old school revival.

The dissatisfaction of many with the aesthetics of Third Edition did not go unnoticed in many quarters of the roleplaying games industry. Clark Peterson and Bill Webb launched a new game company in 2000 to coincide with the release of Third Edition. Called Necromancer Games, the company took full advantage of the OGL to publish products that displayed, in the words of its motto, "Third Edition Rules, First Edition Feel." Necromancer Games releases were primarily adventure modules written to emulate the content and style of TSR's old AD&D adventures, circa 1977-1983, which many consider the "Golden Age" of roleplaying games.

This approach proved so successful that Goodman Games followed suit in 2003 by unveiling a line of their own adventure modules called Dungeon Crawl Classics. Goodman's modules also used the Third Edition rules and even more explicitly imitated the past by including artwork from old school illustrators like Jeff Dee, Jim Holloway, Erol Otus, and Jim Roslof. Successful though they were, both Necromancer and Goodman's efforts were nostalgia products. That is, they were intended to appeal to gamers who recalled the old TSR modules fondly and wanted to inject some of their flavor into the current edition of D&D. They were not written to support older editions of the game, let alone to spark an old school revival.

Several RPG publishers had already used the OGL and SRD to create more than just supplements to Third Edition D&D, such as entirely new games that re-purposed D&D's mechanics in innovative ways. By 2002, the idea of using the SRD to reverse engineer the out-of-print AD&D took root on Dragonsfoot and other old school forums. Many gamers felt that the SRD contained all the "ingredients" needed to concoct a rebirth of the earlier editions, albeit under a different name, since, generous as Wizards of the Coast had been in its commitment to open gaming, the company still retained the trademarked name Dungeons & Dragons (as well other proper names associated with it, such as those of a few iconic monsters).

The first serious attempt to transmute the SRD contents into "AD&D reborn" was the Castles & Crusades project. Named after the Castle & Crusade Society, a chapter of the International Federation of Wargamers whose members included both Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson, C&C grew out of discussions on Dragonsfoot in 2003 and was developed by Troll Lord Games. Over time, though, the focus of C&C shifted away from "AD&D reborn" and more toward a mechanically simpler version of Third Edition that drew significant inspiration from AD&D. Castles & Crusades was released in 2004 to some acclaim among gamers looking for a modern game that reminded them of earlier editions. Gary Gygax himself asserted on Dragonsfoot that C&C, "has much the same spirit and nearly the same mechanics" as did AD&D, an imprimatur that Troll Lord Games used to good advantage.

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