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

James Maliszewski | 20 Aug 2009 21:00
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This has led some critics to charge that the old school revival is essentially "fundamentalist," while many old school players counter that it is in fact radical in its original meaning, which is to say, returning to the roots of the hobby. Many of these same bloggers are participating in campaigns using older rules or retro-clones and use their blogs to demonstrate the principles of the style of gaming they prefer: rules light, freeform, and placing a greater emphasis on player skill rather than on character skill. Taken together, along with a do-it-yourself spirit, the outlines of what the old school revival is all about become more apparent.

Though some outsiders charge that the old school revival is merely the latest bout of nostalgia, triggered by the deaths of roleplaying pioneers Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson and the general graying of RPG players, the charge rings hollow in the face of the remarkable creations the movements has already produced. Besides the retro-clones there are also entirely new games, like Mazes & Minotaurs and Encounter Critical, whose rules and aesthetics are more in tune with 1979 than 2009. These games are partially exercises in alternate history, imagining how the hobby might have been different if, for example, the first RPG had been based on Greek mythology rather than pulp fantasies. Indeed, imagining how the hobby's history might have been different is a hallmark of the old school revival, many of whose participants see the do-it-yourself ethos of the early days as vastly preferable to the increasing commoditization of gaming that took place in the mid to late 1980s. The revival is thus equal parts a reaction to present trends in the hobby and an attempt to "re-start" it from square one, before the older ways of playing and producing RPGs diverged from those that the revivalists prefer.

Whether this will ultimately lead to a true renaissance in old school gaming or prove a quixotic endeavor remains to be seen. The old school movement is still in its infancy and its character and scope continue to change. What is certain is that the old school revival has already spread far beyond its original audience. Through forums, blogs, and new fanzines like Fight On! and Knockspell, the movement is now attracting the attention of gamers of all stripes, including many born well after the hobby's early days. If enough of these younger gamers see something worthwhile in returning to the roots of roleplaying, the revival might have a lasting impact. Regardless of the ultimate outcome, there has never been a better time for fans of the roleplaying games that started it all.

James Maliszewski is a writer currently living in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. His blog, Grognardia, explores the history and traditions of the hobby of roleplaying.

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