A history of Old School Renaissance for tabletop RPGs

Old School Renaissance is quite the talk in the tabletop RPG world of today since Kickstarter seems to be a great place to fund them and we though a short history of the phenomenon might be needed.

Since the original Dungeons and Dragons system was modified to become Advanced Dungeons & Dragons the camps split and some players wanted to continue playing the first game, while others embraced the new. The creators followed suit and supported both editions and ever since then there were disputes among fans about which edition is better, the dreaded “edition wars” that would keep on living.

The diversity of RPG gaming systems grew exponentially and today we have so many systems that it would be impossible to know all of them, but there were people who were still playing the first D&D versions since it was what they started with and gave them all the flexibility they needed to start rolling. There was one site that brought these players together due to the high quality of campaigns produced by them and it was entitled Dragonsfoot.

One of the first steps towards the OSR was taken by Wizards of the Coast in 2000 with the release of the Open Game License for tabletop role-playing games that would give developers permission to modify, copy and redistribute some of the content of the game and, most importantly, its game mechanics.

Dragonsfoot kept growing in popularity and even the original creator of the game would answer questions on their forums, so they eventually led to other gathering places for the persons seeking Old School games such as the Knights & Knaves Alehouse.

The year 2000 brought the 3rd edition of D&D and at the same time companies like Necromancer Games and Goodman Games’ Dungeon Crawl Classics were created to satisfy the nostalgia and wishes of the fans of first editions.

Dungeon Crawl Classics

The first important contribution to this genre would come with Castles & Crusades published by Troll Lord Games in 2004 and its name is homage to the pre-D&D work of Gary Gygax. The system was simplified to focus more on the story and adventure and instead of the complex skill and feat system of 3.5 they used the “SIEGE Engine” which works on attribute checks.

Castles and Crusades

In 2007 the Old School Index and Resource Compilation, or OSRIC, was created by Matt Finch and Stuart Marshall from the aforementioned Knights & Knaves Alehouse, to bring together the rules for old-school fantasy gaming. Its creators described it as “nothing more than a tool for old-school writers, a stepping stone to put the original, non-copyrightable portion of the old-school rules into an open license, as permitted by law.” (Read the whole text for free here)


The OSRIC was the birthdate of the Old School Revival, Renaissance, Retro-clones or however you want to call it. You could even put highly successful RPGs like Pathfinder into the OSR category if you consider 3rd edition D&D as old school but some would argue that it just walks into the same traps as other modern RPGs, implementing too many rules and focusing the game on mechanics instead of on the actual adventure. Options become inserted into the rules of the game and everything gets too technical for some of the old-school players. Nonetheless, the great success means that Pathfinder and the new D&D versions got many things right as well.

Three of the big names in OSR

The OSR fashion led to an explosion of new RPGs and among the ones we feel the need to mention are Monsters and Magic, Dungeon World and Lamentations of the Flame Princess.

Monsters and Magic was created by Mindjammer Press who took out the d20 system for a 3d6 one and took inspiration from the FATE system to make a game that would be compatible with the first edition D&D adventures while also making them more interesting. For example, characters have both mental and physical hit points, the monsters have motivations as guides for their actions and the characters have a system of traits instead of the skills and abilities.

Monsters Magic

Dungeon World was created by Sage LaTorra and Adam Koebel and it was advertised as having the style of old school games but with modern rules defined by the Powered by the Apocalypse engine which was originally created for Apocalypse World. It won several awards since its inception which was made via Kickstarter.

Dungeon World

We’ve saved the most interesting one, in our opinion, as the last game which is Lamentations of the Flame Princess and it calls itself “weird fantasy role-playing”. The game brings together themes from Clark Ashton Smith and H.P. Lovecraft into a system that is similar to a point to the original D&D but will break out into feats of horror and imagination that will leave you wanting for more. The game comes out in beautifully decorated books and has won several awards such as the ones we have mentioned at the ENnie Awards this year (check the article here).

Lamentations of the Flame Princess

Have you played any of the OSR titles? Which are your favorites? Let us know in the comments below and happy gaming!

One comment

  • Great post. Don’t know where all the comments are. Shouldn’t Lejendary Adventures (Gygax) be here? I haven’t played but I had the impression it was also “old school” D&D (pre-Castles & Crusades).

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