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

James Maliszewski | 20 Aug 2009 21:00
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Of course, some old school gamers were unhappy with Castles & Crusades, which they saw as little more than a watered down version of Third Edition and utterly unlike earlier editions either mechanically or aesthetically. Thus was born the notion of a "restatement" or "retro-clone" game: using the SRD "to emulate as closely as is legally possible the game rules of another game." The first such restatement was OSRIC, a First Edition AD&D clone created by Matt Finch and Stuart Marshall of the Knights & Knaves Alehouse in 2006. OSRIC, an acronym for "Old School Resource Index Compilation," was "intended to reproduce underlying rules used in the late 1970s to early 1980s, which being rules are not subject to copyright, without using any of the copyrighted "artistic presentation" originally used to convey those rules."

Though some feared that Wizards of the Coast would legally challenge OSRIC, no such challenge ever materialized, a happy state of affairs that encouraged others to produce further restatements based on the game and/or edition of their choice. Daniel Proctor's Labyrith Lord, which emulates the 1981 edition of Dungeons & Dragons, was the second retro-clone, but many more followed, including another by OSRIC creator Finch, this time based on the 1974 edition of Dungeons & Dragons. The number of clones, simulacra, and restatements has grown considerably since 2006, with many available for free electronic download, as well as in printed formats through print on demand services, thereby making a fully-fledged old school revival (or, as some call it, an old school renaissance) to take root.
[Editor's Note: If you're interested in retro-clone gaming, next week's High Adventure column by Allen Varney has feature-length coverage of a wide variety of rules sets for all your classic gaming needs.]

As one might expect from a movement populated by crotchety, opinionated gamers, the old school revival has no grand unifying principle beyond a love -- some might say obsession -- with RPGs, particularly Dungeons & Dragons, which still commands the vast majority of fans. Forums like Dragonsfoot, Knights & Knaves Alehouse, and Original D&D Discussion all play vital roles by enabling old school gamers to discuss, share, and argue about their ideas with one another, just like the 'zines and APAs of yore. In recent years, these forums have been bolstered by a vast network of blogs, each as idiosyncratic as its owner, and many of which have produced a significant amount of new -- and free -- material for use with both original and retro-clone games.

Blogs have proven a major engine of the old school revival, generating inspiration and controversy in equal measure, particularly outside the old school revival. If the retro-clone creators are the "engineers" of the movement, the bloggers are its "philosophers." They provide the rationale behind the rejection of modern rules sets and in favor of the hobbyist approach to gaming that they believe harkens back to its earliest days. It is here that controversy often arises, since the opinions of many old school bloggers are seen -- rightly -- as a challenge to the verities of the modern hobby, especially its increasing commercialization and detachment from its own history.

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