Full Circle: A History of the Old School Revival

Full Circle: A History of the Old School Revival

Finally, old school tabletop RPGs are back! But the road to revival had been long and complicated.

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Ok, so a revival of actual old-school rpgs, not "tabletop rpgs in general" as the old-school. The tabletop RPG community has been alive and well beyond the machinations of TSR and especially Wizards of the Coast. There's a lot more out there than DnD, Shadowrun, and the Warhammer Fantasy RPG. I direct curious parties to http://www.rpg.net, http://www.story-games.com, and http://www.indie-rpgs.com for the most active sites, full of games without "4" behind their titles.

so im reading the article and my Dad who is like 40 stared over my shoulder and says he remembers the players handbook on the 2nd page. the sad thing is i cannot find a group to play DnD with.

How is this different from other societal trends, like fashion or music? Isn't "retro charm" just about 20-30 years ago?

I'm a relatively new gamer, and I love both the retro and the new stuff, although for different reasons. I've played D&D 1st and 3.5 ed, Shadowrun 3 and 4, and New World of Darkness as well as various indie games and diceless, sometimes heavily houseruled and epic craziness, among others. There is a lot of flexibility in tabletop gaming that simply cannot exist in video gaming.

At the very least, more options are a good thing.

I feel like this kind of history would fit better on, say, RPGnet. I'm not sure a lot of the Escapist's audience, even just the TRPG players, really knows what the basic essence of "old-school" is supposed to be. And without that, knowing what years WotC did what doesn't really mean much.

-- Alex

aakibar:
so im reading the article and my Dad who is like 40 stared over my shoulder and says he remembers the players handbook on the 2nd page. the sad thing is i cannot find a group to play DnD with.

Alas, nor can I. But I think that the revival of TRPGs is a good thing. Maybe the more people are drawn to it, the more it will seem like they're played by people OTHER than 40 year old guys in basements. I think for a lot of people it's a closet hobby.

Alex_P:
I feel like this kind of history would fit better on, say, RPGnet. I'm not sure a lot of the Escapist's audience, even just the TRPG players, really knows what the basic essence of "old-school" is supposed to be. And without that, knowing what years WotC did what doesn't really mean much.

-- Alex

I first played D&D in 1974. I still play (3.5 / Pathfinder). The Escapist is a regular read for me. I was a bit surprised that Maliszewski had an article on paper and pencil RPGs on it (I cruise through his site - Grognardia - on occassion). On the other hand their might be a lot of us old geezers reading the site, after all, here I am. And you :)

I've been role-playing since ADND2E and I wonder why those rules need to be reinvented to provide an old-school feel. In my opinion the feel depends on the campaign setting and not so much on the ruleset. A great example is the classic setting of Greyhawk. Playing in this setting should be enough to get the retro feel, regardless of the rule system used to play in it. You can search a copy of the 1983 edition of World of Greyhawk on eBay or buy the Living Greyhawk Gazetteer on Amazon or start of with the freely available Campaign Standards and Dieties guide on RPGA Living Greyhawk. So even when it comes to the campaign setting you can go from tattered paper to dynamic downloads. But the thing is that this is all about information and not about rules. The information can be adapted to any ruleset, whether it is ODND or DND4E.

Woem:
I've been role-playing since ADND2E and I wonder why those rules need to be reinvented to provide an old-school feel. In my opinion the feel depends on the campaign setting and not so much on the ruleset.

The rules have a major role in defining the moment-to-moment feel of a game, though. The same general adventure idea plays out very differently in Moldvay D&D than it does in 4th Edition.

Also, part of the "old-school" thing is having a loosely-defined implicit setting encoded within the rules themselves. There's no campaign setting book, usually -- instead, you're supposed to look at the list of spells and races and monsters and kinda get a sense for the general character of the world from that.

You could say that the modern "old-school" movement has embraced the same "System Does Matter" maxim as hippie-indie designers, even though they have rather different ideas about how to write a game.

-- Alex

Oh, hey, speaking of hippie-indie design...

Many of the folks involved in Forge-style/story-game-style indie design have written their own takes on "old-school": Donjon, Storming the Wizard's Tower, High-Quality Roleplaying, Drowning and Falling, that build-your-own-dungeon game with the name I've unfortunately forgotten. It's pretty interesting to compare these to the games that are coming out of the old-school movement itself.

-- Alex

Great article. D&D has never been my thing, but I think this is an enchanting tale of how the power of imagination, and dogged belief that the old games are better, and that the new rules have messed everything up has resulted in something beautiful. If only we could harness this energy to cure deseases.

This coming from a man who reads White Dwarf.

docsax:
Ok, so a revival of actual old-school rpgs, not "tabletop rpgs in general" as the old-school. The tabletop RPG community has been alive and well beyond the machinations of TSR and especially Wizards of the Coast. There's a lot more out there than DnD, Shadowrun, and the Warhammer Fantasy RPG. I direct curious parties to http://www.rpg.net, http://www.story-games.com, and http://www.indie-rpgs.com for the most active sites, full of games without "4" behind their titles.

Just signed up to the Forge and am having a geek-gasm. I love the systems creation part of gaming and am working on one now. Now I can vent at people who enjoy it, not just my friends!

I find it interesting that you say roleplaying games are returning to their roots. Frankly, I don't think they ever left them.

the antithesis:
I find it interesting that you say roleplaying games are returning to their roots. Frankly, I don't think they ever left them.

That was pretty much my point. There hasn't really been a more than few year period over the last 30 years that the RPG community hasn't been intensely active and productive. Of course, this statement really only works when you consider RPG roots as being more than DND. Yes, when that cadre of dudes threw some story rules onto Chainmail, the RPG was born, but, as far as RPGs go, that's the extent of DnD's influence-- the hobby itself. Games like Ghostbusters (especially) have had a much bigger influence on how the game is played. The indie scene especially has always been vibrant.

So really, what this article is really saying, is that the mainstream is finally coming back to tabletop gaming. In that sense, yes. We're seeing for the first time since the heyday of the World of Darkness (about 93-98) a massive, popular gravitation toward the flesh-and-blood rpg scene.

docsax:
So really, what this article is really saying, is that the mainstream is finally coming back to tabletop gaming. In that sense, yes. We're seeing for the first time since the heyday of the World of Darkness (about 93-98) a massive, popular gravitation toward the flesh-and-blood rpg scene.

I'm not seeing that in the article at all.

What it's saying is that people who like games like OD&D, BD&D, and Tunnels & Trolls were inspired by the OGL to make "retro-clones" of those games, as well as reimaginings with similar thematic focus and rules structure.

The "Old-School Renaissance" isn't about "new blood" entering the hobby. It's about veteran gamers deciding that they can write new products for themselves.

-- Alex

It's about veteran gamers deciding that they can write new products for themselves.

Actually, that's another aspect to my point. The OGL picked up on what was already happening, had been happening nonstop for a good long while. The homebrew revival of the OGL brought to the forefront a part of the hobby that'd been there for years. Not detracting from the article, mind you. Just saying that even the homebrew/self-pub phenomenon isn't all that new. Again, it's all just been brought up into the mainstream.

From hearing most of you it sounds like us fresh blooded new comers are being a little left out to dry. I mean it's fine that all of you old farts wish to stay in your huddled mass but at least leave a space for us if you want things to continue.

Though I mean this in the most respect and admiration.

Much of the renaissance being talked about have been "old pharts" rediscovering the wild and crazy feeling of the hobby of their youths. That's true.

But, it's a very welcoming circle if you enjoy the aesthetics and the philosophy of that kind of gaming. I have personally ignited a love of this kind of gaming in a bunch of fresh blooded gamers in my regular Tunnels & Trolls game.

Some time the idea of spreading the love might get lost in all our enthusiasm, though. Sorry about that. It might be good to be reminded. ;)

I'm surprised to see that Hackmaster, which began as largely a copy of First Edition AD&D, is not mentioned. I haven't followed its development, but there is certainly a great mass of Hackmaster material in print (even a version of SpellJammer).

I've not followed the "revival", but if I could characterize the difference between old school D&D and Third Edition, it was that it was much simpler, and much more based in cooperation. D&D 3 is, as someone said "fantasy Squad Leader", with every character designed to allow it to be independent, a "power gamer's fantasy".

4th edition, though it may be a good game and certainly emphasizes cooperation, isn't D&D.

 

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