Friday, March 30, 2012

Open Friday: Four Years

Today marks the fourth anniversary of my starting this blog -- and what a four years it's been! Back in March 2008, there were only two retro-clones, OSRIC and Labyrinth Lord, and there wasn't the plethora of new published adventures or supplements for old school gaming that we have today. For that matter, there weren't that many blogs and forums dedicated to the Old Ways either, if you can believe it. Neither were there any, let alone multiple, conventions where the vast majority of the attendees would be playing RPGs published three decades ago. In those days, "old school" wasn't the Next Big Thing that it seems to have become, with even Wizards of the Coast, whose D&D IV wasn't yet released when I started this blog, openly embracing it as it prepares to produce the latest edition of the Original Fantasy Roleplaying Game. All in all, it's been a fun and successful four years for our little corner of the hobby.

So, for today, feel free to use the comments to post your memories and thoughts about the last four years as it pertains to old school gaming. I'm especially curious to hear from people who were involved in preserving and promoting the Old Ways prior to 2008 and if they ever imagined that their preferred style of RPG would even experience a revival, let alone a renaissance.


  1. I wanted to get into the old-school d&d because of these blogs, particularly this one. Those old gaming stories like Morgan Just and James Calvert were really, I don't know the word, inspiring or immersing or something. They seemed like great stories and that's what I wanted, to have stories like that. So I started with OSRIC then Labyrinth Lord and then Swords & Wizardry. Now we're using some really simple rules I cobbled together but it all started because of this blog.

    I also play Thousand Suns after reading about here and it's a really great system. Maybe Imperial Sci-fi's not my thing but I still play it in my own universe and my group gets into it (I have some posts about it on my blog).

    So thanks for a blog that talks about a lot of subjects with intelligence, doesn't engage in pointless new school bashing and introduced me to the great retroclones.

  2. Congratulations on four years. Reading your blog regularly last year inspired me to start my own.

  3. Congratulations.

    My best recollections -- I started with B/X back then and played more 2E than anything else. But I was a 3.5 convert for a long time when it came out. Even so, I never ran that many third edition adventures. Whenever I needed inspiration I found myself going back to my shelves of 1st and 2nd edition Dungeon magazines and Basic D&D adventures.

    Even though I've moved on to other games, I find that the old school blogs are some of my favorites to read and keep up with... and as the circle turns, I'm considering a summer game this year using Adventurer, Conqueror, King System...

    Here's hoping for another four years of Grognardia.

  4. Congrats James, I've gotten lots of food for thought out of this blog. It kind of resembles the post or pre session gabfests we had way back when.

    4 years ago I stumbled on Grognardia after looking for OOP RPGs and found Labyrinth Lord. I printed it out at work on the sly, then still looking around I found Chogwiz, Society of Torch, Pole and Rope, you and James Raggi among others. I've only been able to get into patchy Cthulhu or 4E games out here, so reading you guys scratches my itch for the Old Ways.


  5. So, after some digging, I see that the first classic Traveller I had played since the 1980s started in December 2004. (And it was the first time for me to run cT.) My first classic D&D campaign since the 1980s started February 2006. Hard to believe that my “back to basics” era is approaching a third of my gaming history.

    (Also of note was a AD&D2e game sometime in the mid-1990s that was a precursor of it.)

    Since then, I’ve had the opportunity to introduce at least five new people to the hobby. Three of whom have become regular members of my group.

    For three of them—regular World of Warcraft players aged from 20 to 40yo—I used classic D&D as their first system, and I was pleasantly surprised by how they grokked the differences from the start. While they were surprised with all the things they saw that WoW had taken from D&D, they didn’t expect D&D to be WoW.

    My son—in fifth grade at the time—ran some classic Traveller for his friends, which was a big hit. He has also joined my regular group now. He’s thinking about running another game for his friends now, and he’s thinking he’ll just make up the system.

    I credit Gary Gygax himself with sending me back to basics. It started with his columns in Dragon after 3e came out. His stories of the early days were so inspiring. His web site at the time had a link to Dragonsfoot. I was so surprised to find people still playing games I thought were obsolete. I had to figure out how that could be.

    Then there’s North Texas RPG Con. Having only been to a couple of cons before, I tended to think poorly of con gaming. It’s amazing to see strangers come together and get along nearly as well as a weekly group. To get to experience so many different games and GMs. To get to put some faces with names from the internet. And to get to meet some of the names gracing many of the books on my shelves.

  6. Heya,

    I'm brand new to the OSR, and I'm looking forward to getting back into RPGs as I remember them when I started. I just started following this blog about a month ago, and it's been great.



  7. Heh, no, I had no idea that it would become the next big thing. Prior to 2008, I was lurking/sometimes posting over at ENWorld (I think around 2002 or so) and prior to that, I just basically would look fondly at my 1e books (I didn't game in the 90's because I wasn't really interested in 2e at the time and that was what everyone was playing). Anyways, I guess I started to realize with folks like Dialgo over at ENWorld, there were a few active Old Schoolers participating in the Internet Forums. I support Castles and Crusades as well as Goodman Games and Necromancer Games products as they came out but as good as they were/are, they didn't FULLY scratch that itch for me.

    I found out about Dragonsfoot and then the K&K Alehouse forums. When the whole talk of OSRIC started as a tool for legally publishing Old School content, I was exstatic and was happy to contribute (I think this was around 2005/2006). Not being much of a writer but having a little bit of drawing ability, I did as much art as I could for what would become OSRIC 2.0 (the new current edition). It is interesting that the clones have become as big as they have. I know the original intent was not for OSRIC to replace the 1e books, but only a tool to legally publish old school content (such as Expeditious Retreat Press' Advanced Adventures). There was a heck of a lot of mud slinging back then about OSRIC being of dubious legal nature and a lot of naysayers being outright hostile (I guess there are some, but it is different now).

    I know some people are still skeptical of the clones (why do I need one when I still have my 1e books?). I can see the point of that argument, but back when Matt Finch and Stuart Marshall really started going down this road, there was (or at least it was a perception) no legal way to really create any 1e/BX/OD&D compatible commercial content. OSRIC was only meant initially as a vehicle to allow folks to commercially produce that content (I know, it can be argued that the OGL allowed for that anyway) and have a banner to rally around (OSRIC compatible let everyone know that it is essentially 1e compatible).

    At any rate, I remember it starting off with a handful of us malcontents over at K&K and has become something more. I was excited when Joe Browning asked me to illustrate one of his Advanced Adventure modules based on my work for OSRIC 2.0. I've now contributed to quite a few of those and various other old school projects as well and it has been a blast. I'm not too voiciferous on the forums or blogs cause I'm usually too busy doing art for more OSR projects or gaming, or trying to write my own gaming material. Yeah, it has been very cool to watch this thing grow (there is a pretty active Old School Gamers group on Facebook), a ton of blogs, many conventions (I was thrilled to be a guest at the OSR Booth at GENCON 2012), and even WOTC seems to have taken notice that there is sizable support for the Old School stuff out there.

    Thanks for creating a solid blog presence James, you among many, many other have made this a really fantastic time to be an Old School Gamer. Oh, and I'm looking forward to Dwimmermount!

  8. Wow, yeah, things have changed. I started Goblinoid Games in 2006 not long after the first version of OSRIC was released. I was contributing to the expanded OSRIC and then wrote Labyrinth Lord and released it in 2007. Back then of course the predominant internet debate was whether OSRIC was "legal" or not, and possibly more people than not wondered what us knuckle heads were doing trying to preserve out of print versions of the game.

    The audience for old-school games has grown a lot. In the beginning I was excited to sell a dozen PDFs of something. We were still having the conversation about whether there really was an audience, because across the board sales were not great. I think more than the release of 4e, the unfortunate passing of Gary Gygax brought a lot of people back to old-school D&D and with the increase in the number of bloggers the "OSR" as we know it today emerged.

    It was a big challenge getting Labyrinth Lord into traditional distribution. I was able to raise some meager funds through a limited distribution sale drive and bought my first small print run of LL in 2008. I signed on as a client of Key20, but after a short few months they went out of business. Luckily I took the money I made from the books that did sell, and sold off the remaining books online, and was able to send the revised LL into distribution in 2009.

    If there is one negative aspect of how things have developed I think it would be that some people still misunderstand the purpose of the first clones. Some people talk about how now we need to "progress" in the "next wave." But there is no true next wave unless you count all the D&D spinoffs starting in the 1970s. The urge to create "D&D but better" has been around since day one.

    I'm not saying there is anything bad about that necessarily. But some people forget that the whole point of the clones was to preserve the original rules as best we can under the OGL, not to "innovate" for the sake of it. I'm a big supporter of open gaming and open content, so I hope no one takes all of this the wrong way. But the clones were created as a response to constant tinkering and revisions, we wanted the original rules unchanged and available forever, so there is some irony when people say we need to "progress" away from the clones.

  9. As far back as '96 is when I started setting up a Traveller campaign. I decided that the original rules were still good enough and I would use them. I also started re-reading my 1st ed AD&D books again. I would have run a game with them if there was more interest at the time. So I was old school before it was cool.

  10. First off, Congratulations James!

    My Story-

    I was living in San Francisco for about six months last year and bored one afternoon on the BART I was browsing the web on my iPhone. For reasons I can't remember, I just typed in 'vintage dungeons and dragons' into my browser. The first link brought me here. Holy ^&*$^*, a Vault of the Drow retrospective I said to myself and memories started flooding back about this little hobby of ours.

    I hadn't played or purchased any tabletop RPG in years, but I had very fond memories of them. I went back and read your ENTIRE archive and I was hooked. Then I started reading other blogs, forums, et cetera. I exchanged an email with you in which you recommended Labyrinth Lord and I dutifully went out to the only real FLGS in San Francisco proper and purchased their only copy.

    Flash forward. I just got back from GaryCon and have my tickets ready for the NTRPG Con in Texas in June. I am writing my own module (which I am quite proud of, but which has grown considerably in scope no thanks to the high quality of projects produced by others :) ), I vote with my wallet and buy a huge amount of OSR products, have begun collecting First Edition and earlier TSR products, and have met with both the old luminaries and tons of other like minded gamers. To be honest, I am better for it. I have a life threatening illness and finding my way into this has given me great pleasure and improved my life drastically.

    So long story short. Thank you James and may you have many more years pontificating and celebrating the hobby.

    Very Respectfully,

    Zach Glazar

  11. Congratulation and thank you, James!

    It was your blog that led me to Swords & Wizradry and then to entire OSR. It taught to read (and to valorize) old RPGs, to see them in a light light (and to get a lot of fun out of them). I also started blogging because of Grognardia.

  12. Googled “Gord the Rouge” and it brought me here, started reading and that lead me to Dragons Foot, that lead me to a 2e gaming group that has been going strong for the last 11 months.

    Thanks for everything

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  14. I'd been frozen in carbonite since 1985 - whenever Unearthed Arcana came out. For the next five years I recycled old modules, played by the old rules, occasionally joining in another Group's also unchanging Iron Crown Enterprises games... to a diminishing circle of players.

    By 1992, I was stranded: the old game and I fell into such obscurity that, by the time of my 20th high school reunion, not one of my old pals even vaguely remembered (or, more likely, admitted to remembering) even ever playing the game, a game that consumed my imagination and my Friday nights for more than a decade.

    Then, one gray and bitter day in March, 2008, amidst howling winds and the first public signs of a global economic collapse*, three words were typed into the internet:

    What's a Grognard?

    And my frozen eyes flickered to life.

  15. Happy anniversary, James! I owe you a tremendous debt of gratitude. I entered the hobby a couple of years after you, and experienced pretty much the same era and fell away for many of the same reasons. My folks visited a year or so ago and brought with them a box of some of my old junk from their shed. Inside was a motley sample of my old RPGs (B(Moldvay)EC, 1E DMG, PH, FF and a couple of modules as well as pages of handwritten notes and scenarios, Star Frontiers, VG’s James Bond, Top Secret, Paranoia, even TMNT (yes, that TMNT – what can I say, I was curious)). Where the rest of the old stuff is now (and there was a lot more), I’ll probably never know, but what was there was enough to send me into a tailspin of nostalgia. (Not knowing this side of me, my wife was appalled to learn that she had somehow wound up married to “one of those guys”.) I discovered your blog through a Google hit of your review of Dungeon’s list of the 30 Greatest D&D modules of all time. I was immediately hooked on your POV, your style, and your experience in the hobby (so similar to, though decidedly deeper than, mine). After that, I systematically read through your archives, learning much and developing some new ideas of my own on the way. A few months ago, I decided to put it all into practice by introducing my own kids to the Old Ways. After a brief introduction to the hobby through Moldvay Basic, I was primarily a pre-DL 1E guy (Ravenloft and DL conspired to ruin my gang back in the day, but that’s another story for another day), but I’ve chosen to re-enlist with BEC. I handle most of the mechanics as DM (though my oldest daughter – yes, I even got the girls hooked – has been absorbing more and more) and just let the kids’ imaginations flow. B2 has never been better, and I’m even carving the start of a megadungeon out of the Cave of the Unknown. Seeing how engaged the kids are and feeling left out of the fun, my wife (!) even asked the other day if she could roll up a character and join us next time. I can’t wait to see what happens, and look forward to some future Bond missions and Rider Haggard-inspired Gaslight CoC. Thanks for everything!

  16. I actually sold off my Menzter B/X set and gave away my AD&D when 3E came out as I never played them and could never completely wrap my head around THAC0 (much as I still can't understand Mutants and Masterminds) in the 15+ years I owned them. As 3E continued and gave way to 3.5 I became more disenchanted with the products of WotC/Hasbro and the rumors of a 4th edition just sealed it for me.

    Then I stumbled across the Troll Lords (as I recall because of Goodman Games). I immedicately took to it because it preserved some of the quirkiness and flavor of 1E but was more easily understood. While at the Troll Lord forums, I read veiled references to OSRIC which, at the time, was verboten as possibly an illegitimate use of the OGL. Investigations into the C&C material at Dragonsfoot also led me into contact with more references to OSRIC the Labyrinth Lord.

    I tracked down OSRIC first and it appealed to a sense of nostalgia. It also showed me that one of the problems I had with AD&D was the organization of the books.

    Well, since then, I have collected Labyrinth Lord, Advanced Edition Companion, Original Edition Characters, Realms of Crawling Chaos, OSRIC, OSRIC Unearthed, Hackmaster Basic, Spellcraft & Swordplay, Basic Fantasy Roleplaying, Old School Magic, Old School Psionics, Dragons at Dawn, and Spellcraft & Swordplay with Monstrous Mayhem. Oh, I have also preordered DCC RPG.

  17. I'm not a big fan of D&D-related games, but I'm a big proponent of both the Chaosium BRP system and T&T -- both from the 70s.

    I remember being the sole owner of a BRP-dedicated web-site in the second half of the 90s and in the beginning of the 00s... It felt like a flickering candle in utter darkness. Then all of a sudden we had the BGB, Mongoose RQ, OpenQuest, RQ 6...... There's today more BRP stuff than I can read or buy yet I still have fond memories of those lonely days when I was at the centre of the BRP fandom :)

  18. Happy anniversary and may there be many more! I'm not sure what keywords I put into Google in early 2010, but they brought me here! Grognardia was my jumping-off point for my exploration of the OSR. After reading just this blog for a few days, I used your Links of Interest to start exploring other similar blogs. Then I was inspired to start my own blog in order to get into this little community of ours! You and the rest of the crowd led me back to an appreciation of the many OOP incarnations of D&D as well as a new appreciation of the in-print clones. Now, I'm about to embark on a Labyrinth Lord campaign and I can't wait for the adventures to come! I'm thankful to have had Grognardia as a stable foundation from which to explore the roleplaying blogosphere!

  19. I was simply looking for roleplaying blog when I stumbled across this sit, not even a year ago. I'm a new schooler, grew up with 3.5.

    But as I read more and play more and even run games more often I find that the some new rules make things almost ridiculous. I've been following the OSR ever since (mostly due to this blog's influence), trying to convince family and friends to give it a try.

  20. I was already running games for a brand new group (after near a decade off from gaming) when I stumbled across the OSR. My delving into it physically with some local groups and doing some con sessions has had its ups and downs, but it has been fun to appreciate the older stuff with other aging gamers of yore. I never thought about blogging myself, until I heard you on some podcast or another 3 years ago or so, and took a look here. I got inspired and got involved.

    To some degree the nostalgia has worn off a bit, I've blogged less, and have recently put my efforts into focusing on the incredible group I run for/play with on an almost weekly basis now for 4 years. I ran one of my best Call of Cthulhu games ever Wed night, and my players seem to be blown away (once again I had to pull teeth to get my players to try Cthulhu, and as predicted they love it), so I am going to put even more focus on the actual games and less on arguing with people on forums.

    But for good or bad James, you inspired me with the blog and I got more invovled online. Thanks, congrats, and here's to another four years.

  21. In March 2008 I was living in the Outer Hebrides, hadn't played any RPG for about a decade, and was writing an AD&D campaign and a BRP conversion for Skyrealms of Jorune - just for fun, not really imagining I'd ever get to play them.

    The news of Gary Gygax's death made me nostalgic for the early days and I started looking for old D&D adventures online, which led me to Dragonsfoot and thence to the OSR corner of the blogosphere. Grognardia taught me about Labyrinth Lord. At first I was amazed that someone would still want to play a version of B/X D&D, and then it was as if a light came on and I realised that's where my heart (and head) lay too. Now I run B/X Stonehell Dungeon for a regular group and it's a blast. And I buy more OSR goodies than is strictly sensible. (How many megadungeons does one man need?) Oh aye, and I'm still writing the Jorune thing.

    Congratulations and thanks.

    P.S. *cough* Petty Gods *coughcough*

  22. When I heard about 4th edition I knew that it wasn't going to be for me. Soon after I found OSRIC, and that was that. Without the OGL and the total break with tradition that 4th edition created I would probably still be using 3.x, so in a way I think we have Hasbro to thank for the OSR.

  23. I had been growing increasingly dissatisfied with my gaming when I stumbled upon Grognardia two years ago.

    Your blog has been a real eye-opener and ultimately, immersing myself in the OSR scene has led me to start a Warhammer FRP 1e campaign last year. I'm having an absolute blast.

    Thank you!

  24. Congratulations, James! Your blog has been boon to me, first as a resource for learning more about the early days of the hobby, and later by sparking my interest in the OSR. I was already a huge fan of indie, DIY publishing (e.g., the Forge), and seeing a similar blossoming w/r/t classic RPGs was a joy.

    I think the OSR is one of the most important things to ever happen to the hobby, and you are its leading light. Thank you!

  25. There was a Renaissance? <grin>

    Seriously, regardless of what actual rules you use, I think the heart of the so-called Old School philosophy is using your imagination to create your own worlds/campaigns, rather than accepting what you have been given as canon. [Not to forget stealing the bits and pieces that other people come up with that you like, and ignoring the stuff you don't. As I started doing nearly 35 years ago and am continuing to do today.]

    After all, everyone knows that hybrids have greater vigour than a monoculture...

  26. Congratulations. Well done. A blog I enjoy even if I'm out of the overall gaming loop. I actually stumbled across it while I was looking for information on Tolkien. It was a post on his birthday that talked about his influence on the game. I had recently started to play D&D 3rd edition with my boys, since they were into the whole fantasy environment complements of Harry Potter and the LoTR movies. I had tried AD&D a couple times in its day, but not being a big fan of fantasy, it never stuck.

    After a few months of 3rd, I was less than impressed. Something about it left me with the impression of chewing on tin foil - the sensation of eating but not being satisfied. Once I started reading here, I thought I might dust off those books I bought in the day and start there, and so I did. Not only I, but my family as well, have warmed to the hobby since.

    It also didn't hurt that there continued a steady stream of discussions and links to a variety of topics relating to that period in the hobby on this blog, as well as helping with its fantasy literature roots. That's how it went with me.

  27. Just glad that there are other people my age out there who remember and are nostalgic for the golden age of RPGing.

    They say tabletop RPGing are dying and will one day be on the same plane as Faro, tomahawk throwing and Bear Wrestling, but as long as there are blogs like this, and old gamers pining for the old days, those dying days will be pushed back.

  28. Long time fan of the blog. For me, I started digging out my B/X Basic book when 4e was announced. I was pretty burnt out on 3.x by then, and wanted something to fool around with until the 4e rules were unveiled. But I got hooked. I ordered copies of my long lost BEC books and the B/X Expert book and fell back in love. We also broke out the old Marvel rules (although it never enjoys the longevity D&D has for us).

    When 4e finally did come out and we started playing, I found I didn't care for it at all. We played BEC and had a blast. Don't get me wrong: 4e has grown on me as an occasional board game/family night affair, but it didn't feel the same.

    I've been enjoying an LL/AEC game on Skype for the last few months.

    Viva la OSR!

  29. Congratulations James, I know that your blog takes a lot of time and effort to do, so cumulatively over 4 years your blog has become an Opus Magnus of sorts for the OSR to draw upon.
    Your blog has certainly inspired me and encouraged me to carry on with my own blog.

  30. Thank you Sir James for all the work on this blog. You have made me see things from a different angle and I can think of no higher praise.

  31. I'm not exactly a grognard (seriously, I first got into D&D via Pathfinder. THAT'S what I call late Oo ), and just a few years ago, I was rather amused by the idiosyncrasies of older RPGs. Then I stumbled upon your blog and learned to look at these "antiques" from a different perspective - one I rather like, as I must add.

    Now, your blog is basically my No. 1 blog for anything rpg-related (okay, maybe not the newer stuff, but you get the idea).

  32. Congratulations, James. Keep the flame lit.