Wednesday, December 4, 2013

A Short History of the Old School Renaissance

The Internet allows niche communities to easily communicate and grow. In this case, around 2000, people playing classic editions of DnD found that there was a great deal of other people still playing classic editions. They started getting together and doing non-commercial stuff like ODnDities.

The Open Game License allowed companies to use the d20 SRD as the basis for a game.

Troll Lord Games decided to make a ADnD RPG that called Castles and Crusade. During its development this was changed to be only ADnD compatible instead of a clone. It compatible in that you can take an original ADnD adventure or setting and use it as is and it will work with C&C.

Matt Finch and slightly later Stuart Marshall takes on writing OSRIC in the mid 2000s. They know IP lawyers and get them involved in the process. Their work relies on the twin pillars that the terms they need are open content because of the d20 SRD and that under US Law game mechanics can't be copyrighted. Their goal is to produce as close of a clone as they legally can. Their first editions was designed as a publisher reference/SRD to producing adventures and supplement.

Concurrently Chris Gonnerman produces Basic Fantasy which is a quasi-clone of BECMI DnD. However it doesn't have as great as an impact as OSRIC as it wasn't explicitly setup to allow third party publishing.

We are now in 2007.

In August Dan Proctor produces Labyrinth Lord a complete ready to run Retro Clone of B/X D&D.

In 2008 Matt Finch, one of the original authors of OSRIC, releases Swords and Wizardry a complete and ready to run clone of ODnD.

Finally in the fall of 2008 OSRIC itself is rewritten as a complete ready to run RPG as Version 2.

Before 2006 there were about 50 odd releases of various material supporting classic editions. In 3e world there was a back to the roots movement led by Goodman Games and Necromancer Games who were noted for writing old school adventures with new school rules.

These all count stuff targeted explicitly written for classic editions.
In 2006 this was nearly doubled with 48 releases.
In 2007 there was a small fall off to 44 releases.
In 2008 there was 76 releases.
In 2009 there was 125 releases

and keeps growing from there along with a huge growth in closely related games set in different genres like planet and swords or close in tenor and feel like the DCC RPG.

To recap the three factors that allowed the OSR to grow in to a substantial hobby niche are

  • The huge body of people who played classic editions of DnD.
  • The internet capability to allow niche communities to communicate and grow.
  • The use of the Open Game License to RPGs to use the most of the same terms as classic editions.
  • The inexpensive availability of Print on Demand technology.

The OSR is now a distinct niche of its own with it own industry side and hobby side similar to Fate, GURPS, Savage World, etc. Unlike the rest there is no dominant (Fate) or single (GURPS, Savage World, etc) publishers supporting it. It is solely supported by multiple publishers. This may change if Wizards decides to return to publishing older edition materials.

I know a lot of hard working publishers are not mentioned I encourage people to go to the Hoard and Horde timeline and check the dozens of excellent material that have been published over the years. Also do a search for OSR on Lulu and check out the OSR section on RPGNow.


garrisonjames said...

Thanks for the perspective. Not only is the OSR a somewhat recent development, it tends to be organic and messy in how it continues to grow and evolve. It's good to have some clearly defined dates and accurate numbers to track how things started and continue to keep growing.

Guy Fullerton said...

It's probably most appropriate to discuss BFRPG prior to OSRIC. BFRPG came first, and certainly helped inform the direction of (if not actually fuel) OSRIC. There is some relevant historical chatter here:

Stating the reason for BFRPG's lower impact (compared to OSRIC) is probably also inappropriate, given that the stated reason is really just speculation.

There's room to argue OSRIC had more impact than BFRPG because OSRIC was mechanically closer to what people wanted. Some of the key influential/energetic people were dissatisfied with C&C for similar, "not mechanically what I was looking for" reasons. Matt Finch in particular was deeply involved with C&C for a while, but then found it unsatisfying and began exploring AD&D:

...and remember that OSRIC's early impact is almost entirely Matt Finch authoring or co-authoring stuff.

Guy Fullerton said...

Also, the impact of the efforts (by Gary & Rob) to publish Castle Greyhawk / Castle Greyhack / Zagig's Castle / Castle Zagyg is probably worth mentioning. It kept attention levels high, including within the realm of OGL-based rules restatements. Most obviously this fueled C&C, but earlier discussions in and around Castle publishing also mentioned the idea of more pure OD&D/AD&D restatements:

Guy Fullerton said...

Now as I go back and look at the early OSRIC stuff (in particular the Old School Gazettes), I'm seeing less of Matt Finch's impact than I remember. So I probably overstated that point. That's what happens when I post from memory, sorry! :)

Brent said...

This is wonderful!

What would you charge if I cleaned this up and included it as a chapter in my OSR Handbook?

Robert Conley said...

@Brent sure although I would dig more into Basic Fantasy than I did.

You should write your own thoughts on the matter because one thing I learned that OSR depends on what slice you are looking.

I mentioned Basic Fantasy because it was one of the earliest or the earliest retro-clone. Certainly the first ready to play retro-clone. I also felt that I should mention why I thought did didn't gain the prominence of Labyrinth Lord or Swords & Wizardry

If you asked me in 2010 why, I would agreed with you about the mechanics. But now in 2013, I don't think that was the reason because of LotFP, the DCC RPG, and others.

When people were talking about publishing commercially for classic edition OSRIC had the overwhelming mindshare.

Again you are right in that it is an opinion so I welcome you take on it.

Joethelawyer said...

I think two pivotal events happening around the same time are:
1. 4e coming out and being so different than anything that came before, that it was rejected by many people. This left them in the lurch somewhat for a game, as Pathfinder wasn't really released yet.
2. Gygax dying and many many people breaking out the old rules to play a game in his memory. In addition to the nostalgia, people realized/re-remembered the old rules were actually fun! You don't need a spreadsheet to make up a pc!?!?
3. Blogs, led by Grognardia, delving into the old stuff. Basically, the main ones back then were you, Grognardia, Chgowiz, Jeff Rients, Philotonomy's, and a handful of others that were must reads.

Joethelawyer said...

Ahh, and don't forget Targa and that whole shitstorm, then Zak showed up and there was another shitstorm, because, you know, boobies. Then WOTC pulled the PDF's all at once from all places. Remember that Black Night from Hell? Thaty pulled up all together in solidarity against the holders of the D&D IP like nothing I have seen since 1994 and the dismantling of Somewhere along the line we have to remember the two main old school cons started up--NTRPG and Garycon. They gave it legitimacy.

-C said...

I think leaving out Hackmaster is a disservice to the history of the OSR, being that is was effectively 1st edition in print and predates the OSR.

Guy Fullerton said...

Yeah, Courtney's right about Hackmaster. There is a good bit of chatter in the searchable Dragonsfoot, Pied Piper Publishing, and Gygax Games (yahoo group) history regarding Hackmaster. It was a possible publishing vehicle for "Original Campaign" materials. Obviously Castle Greyhack fell through, but Sir Robilar's City of Brass got some original campaign material into print (albeit with some controversy).

Guy Fullerton said...

More regarding BFRPG's lack of traction...

If you look at what people produced & shared prior to the emergence of each of C&C, BFRPG, and OSRIC, it's way more focused on AD&D than on other old school systems. (Sure there were a number of issues of OD&Dities during that time, but that was just Richard Tongue's energy and didn't trigger any others into action with OD&D.)

When Hackmaster became an option, people who had been producing for AD&D didn't start producing for Hackmaster.

When C&C became an option, people who had been producing for AD&D didn't start producing in great numbers for C&C. (Stuff for C&C was primarily produced by the TLG folks plus GG and RJK. Full disclosure: There were a number of unreleased C&C CZ district books authored by producers of AD&D materials, notably Stuart Marshall and Bill Silvey.)

When BFRPG became an option, people who had been producing for AD&D didn't suddenly start producing for BFRPG.

People wanted to produce for AD&D. When OSRIC came out, people produced for it.

If it was just a matter of needing a vehicle targeted at enabling publishing, C&C already provided that opportunity, and yet it didn't catch on with third parties. So it's hardly relevant that BFRPG wasn't intended as a publishing enabler.

It's more relevant that people during that time wanted an AD&D publishing enabler, and that's why OSRIC caught on.

Simon said...

I think there were two things that made the OSR more than a small Internet-based clique, into a general movement with broad reach among RPGers:

1. 4e D&D causing widespread dissatisfaction with its limited play style. This really created the conditions that made it possible to push the OSR over the top.

2. Dan Proctor getting Labyrinth Lord into game store distribution, establishing there was a commercial market - followed by LoTFP.

Unknown said...

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Badmike said...

"Somewhere along the line we have to remember the two main old school cons started up--NTRPG and Garycon. They gave it legitimacy."

Thanks Joe for the mention of NTRPG Con. However, predating these two cons was Lake Geneva Con (I, II and III, I believe), sponsored by Troll Lord Games which took place in and around Gary's house from 2005-2007.

As for the history of NTRPG con, it does have direct roots in the time period of renewed interest in old school gaming (the OSR). A pickup game of Tegel Manor at the 2007 Gencon led to another pickup game of Tegel Manor at the 2008 Gencon, which led to the decision to hold a small get-together featuring old school games in 2009 in the DFW area since travel to Gencon was cost prohibitive for many people involved. We specifically only scheduled OOP RPGs, and our guest list contained a certain Matt Finch (which I believe was his first ever convention appearance where he ran a S&W game). The rest is history, yada yada yada. I will say that everything Joe mentions was swirling in the air at that time and each little bit (4E, rise in RPG blogging, death of EGG) had a part in the decision to focus on the old school.

Chris Gonnerman said...

Hey, just a word from the principal author of Basic Fantasy RPG: I have a post much like this, covering the early history of the retro-clone/simulacrum games, on my blog here:

In particular, thanks to your post here, I finally got to read the Knights and Knaves post that initiated the OSRIC project. It's instructive, historically, to note that BFRPG Release 29 was made on the very day Mythmere (Matt Finch) made that original post.

As to why Basic Fantasy RPG hasn't had the impact... eh, dunno. Don't really care, actually. We have a vibrant, involved community, a number of products now in print, and a bunch more stuff in development all the time. I don't need to compare the size of my project with anyone else's to be happy with it. And of course, adventures written for OSRIC, S&W, LL, and other retro-clones transfer nicely to BFRPG (and vice versa).

We're really just one big, more-or-less happy family here.

Darcy Perry said...

I think Chris, you have summed up the spirit of the OSR nicely. Well done.