01 May 2013

Keeping an old school game fresh

Not to brag, guys, but over the last few years, I've collected a pretty impressive library of old school RPG products. Most of my focus has been on Classic D&D (OD&D, BX, BECM, etc) and some related AD&D stuff, but I've come across plenty of interesting OSR stuff too.

My taste in modern-retro OSR products leans toward the really creative and innovative; games like Lamentations of the Flame Princess , Carcosa , Adventurer Conqueror King (ACKS) , and Dungeon Crawl Classics . Although none of these really does it for me in whole, tempting me to give up BECM D&D entirely, each offers some new and unique material and approaches to the old school D&D system that can make great additions to an existing game.

Now, I have nothing against the more straightforward "retro-clones" like Swords & Wizardry , Labyrinth Lord , Dark Dungeons and others. I love these for keeping the old rules alive for new players, as well as showing off the various ways the rules can be tweaked this way or that to customize the game engine to any particular taste.

The thing is, there is/was far more to old school gaming than just D&D! Some of the other offerings of the late 70s and early 80s were essentially custom D&D builds tailored to the author's campaign and setting, Arduin was a good example of this. Other games, like Tunnels & Trolls, Runequest, The Fantasy Trip and many others, started from scratch, borrowing ideas from other games of the time but creating all new rule sets.

All these games, D&D "knockoff" or otherwise (though, to be fair, some elitists and originalists might call all those games D&D knockoffs) are ripe for the picking! Need interesting new monsters, magic and treasures? Just crack open an old school rpg and have a look, you're certain to find something weird (and sometimes wacky) that D&D never thought of.

We don't have to limit ourselves to OSR games or more modern versions of D&D (and their OGL and GSL knockoffs), nor be forced to do all the work ourselves with homebrew material. Even if you enjoy doing homebrew, some fresh inspiration now and then is never a bad thing.

What are your experiences and opinions of the non-D&D old school games?


  1. I haven't played any of the "old school" non-D&D fantasy games (My first non-D&D fantasy rpg was Warhammer), but I agree that things liek Arduin and what not can be inspiring with their DIY ethic and naive creativity.

  2. "Naive creativity", I like that. To expand on it, I think many of these games, since they remained/remain small press affairs, harken the spirit of early D&D, before corporate pressures forced things to be more palatable to the masses. Weird and whimsical is the name of the game for D&D, say pre-1980, while Arduin, Tekumel and others kept that wild imagination and actually SHOWED us that anything was possible, rather than just saying it, as D&D did later and still does.

    In modern games, Paizo's Pathfinder RPG, while essentially D&D 3.5 edition with different bells and whistles, captures some of the same whimsy. While they're a business, for sure, they embrace their niche and have no megacorporate overlords dictating content, so you get some wild material that would never get approved by Wizards' R&D guys.

  3. My brother and I played a little 2-man Tunnels & Trolls. All I can remember about it was the expectation of a high mortality rate, such that a "stable" of characters was a built-in concept. Your fighter died? That's sad... but just send a note to the tavern perched at the dungeon entrance, and his twin brother will be right down!


Thanks for your comments!