Keystones

Blogging has been a central mode of discourse since the early years of the OSR play style, and it has remained as such across different periods and between different communities. Because blogs are freely available and (usually) allow comments, they are a great source of information which we can read through to better understand the development of the hobby. Also, practically speaking, they are really useful to learn new ways to play.

This is a list of blog posts that I consider to be essential to the theoretical development of the OSR play style. The original listing covered posts from 2007-2019, and it was posted on my own blog post "The OSR Should Die" (link). This page includes posts from after early 2019, up to now. It will always be under construction, it will always be incomplete, and it will always be biased despite my best attempts.

The risk of bias increases the more recently a post has been published. I will try to avoid including any posts from during the current year, since it remains to be seen if that post will meaningfully impact the discourse surrounding the play style. The only exception to this is if I think a post has impacted things very quickly (such as "Six Cultures of Play"), or if I think a post is an accurate representation of ongoing developments (such as "A Structure for Classic Exploration Procedure").

At the same time, some of these bloggers (especially early on) have shown themselves to be hurtful people, at least insofar as they are vocally sexist, racist, homophobic, and/or transphobic. I have included blog posts by these individuals to provide an accurate view of the play style's historical development, but I disavow any harmful or destructive views expressed elsewhere by those individuals, speaking as a queer woman and a communist. So, you know. Caveat emptor!

If you would like to suggest any additions, please feel free to do so in the comments of this page! You may look at Campaign Wiki (link), Necropraxis (link), Papers & Pencils (link), Questing Beast (link), and Links To Wisdom (link) for more resources. A glossary of acronyms is given at the bottom of the page.

2006

  • Rients, Jeff. "I got your threefold model right here, buddy!", Jeff's Gameblog. A tongue-in-cheek alternative to the GNS model of tabletop games, originated by Ron Edwards of The Forge. Rients' three attributes are retro, stupid, and pretentious.
  • Prada, David M. Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Initiative and Combat Table (A.D.D.I.C.T.). A comprehensive and systematic reconciliation of rules for combat procedure in AD&D, such as surprise rounds and segments of rounds. Based on discussions on the Dragonsfoot forum.
  • Melan. "Dungeon layout, map flow and old school game design", EN World. Forum thread comparing different dungeon maps using minimalist graphs of rooms and their connections, in order to show how linear or non-linear they really are.
  • Robbins, Ben. "Same Description, Same Rule", ars ludi. Rules should not surprise players. The goal of a ruleset is to maintain internal consistency, such that no situation is handled by two different rules.
  • Rients, Jeff. "How to Awesome-up Your Players", Jeff's Gameblog. Some ideas for how to keep players engaged and entertained, by giving them something to strive for and improvizing 'rules' to keep the game fun and interesting.

2007

  • Cone, Jason. “Philotomy’s OD&D Musings”, Philotomy. Republished by R. Sivaranjan in 2013. An explanation of what makes OD&D so compelling, including exegesis and house rules. Originates the mantra “dungeon as mythic underworld”.
  • Robbins, Ben. “Grand Experiments: West Marches”, ars ludi. A referee’s experience running a sandbox campaign at an open table with irregular groups of players, irregular parties of characters, and irregular ongoing ‘plots’.

2008

  • Rients, Jeff. "Carlo's Code", Jeff's Gameblog. Six maxims which constitute old-school play for the author: adventure, not arguments; imagination, not indignation; fun, not fumbling for a rulebook; rulings, not rules; making it up, not making do with what they give you; and getting on with the game, not getting bogged down in BS.
  • Maliszewski, James. “On the Oracular Power of Dice”, Grognardia. Referees should embrace random events and results from die-casting as a fundamental part of the game.
  • Maliszewski, James. "How Dragonlance Ruined Everything", Grognardia. The Dragonlance setting and series of adventure books jump-started the shift in D&D from playable modules to dramatic stories, in which characters became pawns of an overarching narrative rather than free agents in the game-world.
  • Trollsmyth. “Shields Shall be Splintered!”, Trollsmyth. A house rule that shields (typically +1 AC) can be destroyed in exchange for totally negating an attack.
  • Alexander, Justin. "Three Clue Rule", The Alexandrian. For mystery adventures, redundancy means safety: provide three clues which players can come upon and use in solving the mystery. Even if two clues aren't found, the third will give players at least enough knowledge to act.
  • Alexander, Justin. “The Death of the Wandering Monster”, The Alexandrian. Wandering monsters, i.e. random encounters, pose a threat to players because they introduce uncertainty about their ability to survive any stretch of exploration. Without random encounters, the game is much less challenging.
  • Finch, Matthew J. Quick Primer for Old School Gaming. A pamphlet created to explain core principles of old-school play: rulings, not rules; player skill, not character abilities; heroes, not superheroes; and disregarding game balance.
  • Maliszewski, James. "Gygaxian 'Naturalism'", Grognardia. Describes the naturalistic technique employed by Gygax in monster and adventure design, where the game's setting and inhabitants are simulated as part of a living world rather than just treating them as pure (formal) obstacles of the game.
  • Rossi, Wayne. "Gygax and the old school", Semper Initiativus Unum. Hobbyists that identify with the old-school play style should take Gygax with a grain of salt, since he is only one person and also since his views have changed over time. Gygaxian play is not the one true way, but one of many possible old-school styles.
  • Maliszewski, James. "Ich bin ein Gygaxian", Grognardia. On one hand, heavy praise for Gygax's influence on the author's own view of D&D; on the other hand, an explanation of the difference between OD&D as an engine for DIY play, versus AD&D as the authoritative word of Gygax himself. This, perhaps, prefigures the later OSR.
  • Rients, Jeff. "Party like it's 999", Jeff's Gameblog. Explains how players can spend XP for carousing, and includes a table of carousing mishaps.

2009

  • Maliszewski, James. "The Ages of D&D", Grognardia. A nearly Hesiodic narrative about the ages of D&D, starting with an aspirational golden age from 1974-1983 and ending with a dark age from 1996-1999. The third edition of the game, Maliszewski argues, should be considered a separate lineage from the "Gygaxo-Arneson" one.
  • Alexander, Justin. "Rules vs. Rulings?", The Alexandrian. Citing Robbins' argument that a ruleset should prioritize consistency, Alexander criticizes Finch's Quick Primer for its maxim "rulings, not rules". Neither is it based in old D&D (citing Greyhawk's thief abilities), nor does it serve consistent play (whereas a flexible ruleset serves consistent rulings). Finch's examples are argued to be very exaggerated in service of a burgeoning old-school play style 'meme'.
  • Alexander, Justin. "Don't Prep Plots", The Alexandrian. Instead of planning story lines and plots, referees should create sets of circumstances (i.e. situations) where players are empowered to act as free agents. Write goals for antagonists, and don't count on specific decisions being made.
  • Shorten, Michael. “Dispelling a myth - Sandbox prep”, ChicagoWiz’s RPG Blog. You do not need to prepare in great detail a sandbox campaign, because the holes will be filled by whatever the players do or seek out.
  • Collins, Daniel. "What is the Best Combat Algorithm?", Delta's D&D Hotspot. Explains how THAC0 works as a mathematical formula, and then offers an alternative method called Target 20 which has only addition rather than subtraction.
  • Trollsmyth. "The Natural Mutations of a Campaign", Trollsmyth. Argues that D&D is not any single game, but that campaigns differ wildly in focus and activity, and that they can even change their focus over time. He concludes, "Learning what you like can be as important as figuring out what works."
  • Rients, Jeff. "On System", Jeff's Gameblog. Discourages people picking fights over the minutia of different rulesets, or trying to be faithful to any one rulebook. Emphasizes the importance of improvisation and doing right by your table.
  • Nat. "Dungeon Soap Operas are the Best Kind of Soap Operas", How to Start a Revolution in 21 Days or Less. In response to Trollsmyth's "The Natural Mutations of a Campaign" (2009), Nat offers one account of how her campaign naturally mutated from dungeon crawls to social intrigue. At the same time, she says, dungeon crawls act as good icebreakers before players have fully established their characters in the world.
  • Steamtunnel. “In Praise of the 6 Mile Hex,” The Hydra’s Grotto. Hexes with a short length of 6 and a long length of 7 are the easiest type of hex for navigation and exploration, and they make sense in terms of how far the human eye can see.

2010

  • Reed, Bob. "Gary Gygax's Whitebox OD&D House Rules", Cyclopeatron. A compilation of house rules used by Gary Gygax to run the original 1974 D&D as described in 2005 and 2007, mostly revolving around making player-characters more resilient and powerful.
  • Joesky. "HOUSE RULE FOR OSR AND NOT-OSR GAMES + PEOPLE (BLOGS)", Joesky the Dungeon Brawler's Blog. Originates the so-called Joesky tax, a convention that bloggers who post extensive rants or useless material should offer something playable at the end of their post.
  • Alexander, Justin. “Jaquaying [sic] the Dungeon”, The Alexandrian. Jennell Jaquays’ module design for D&D serves as a prime example of how to make interesting dungeons to explore, by incorporating looping paths and discontinuous levels et cetera.
  • Wetmore, Patrick. "Session recap, 9/8/2010", Henchman Abuse. An early example of non-standard (i.e. non-Gygaxian) settings being employed in old-school campaigns.

2011

  • Alexander, Justin. "Opening Your Game Table", The Alexandrian. An open game table is analogous to playing catch: you don't need to stringently schedule weekly sessions, but you can just play when you please. A megadungeon can facilitate this campaign structure.
  • Kutalik, Chris. "Fantasy F*ckin' Vietnam", Hill Cantons. The author describes his experience running an old-school game for his father, a Vietnam War veteran, who proves very capable at storming the dungeon and searching for traps.
  • White, Charlie. "Cascading Dice: A House Rule for Tracking Ammunition", Intwischa. Abstract the tracking of ammunition by using die sizes, from d12 to d4. If you roll a 1, then the die size is decreased to the next lowest (e.g. d12 → d10). This seems to be the original version of usage dice from The Black Hack.
  • Arendt, John. “The Sandbox Triangle”, Dreams in the Lich House. Sandbox can be considered an aspect of setting or of play activity. In the latter sense, you must trade off between freedom, detail, and effort (while playing).
  • Campbell, Courtney. “The Quantum Ogre”, Hack & Slash. A series of blog posts about how overdetermining results for players, such as forcing them to encounter a specific thing, leads to less player freedom and less enjoyment.
  • Raggi, James. “Toybox Style Play”, Lamentations of the Flame Princess Blog. A toybox is an approach to designing adventures where there is no overarching plot or other predetermined course of events, but only a location with which players can interact as they please.
  • Laviolette, John. "Simple Foraging", The Nine and Thirty Kingdoms. A followup to a post published the previous day about hunting. Both posts explain a simple resolution system where players roll 5+ on a d6 to succeed, in this case at foraging in different types of ecosystems.

2012

  • Laviolette, John. "Quickie Dice Tool v2.0", The Nine and Thirty Kingdoms. An improved version of a large table the size of a sheet of paper, originally published the month prior in December 2011.
  • Kutalik, Chris. "Crawling Without Hexes: the Pointcrawl", Hill Cantons. Originates the concept of the pointcrawl, where locations are treated as nodes on a graph connected by edges representing paths of travel.
  • Nat. “Why D&D Has Lots of Rules for Combat: A General Theory Encompassing All Editions”, How to Start a Revolution in 21 Days or Less. The function of combat rules in OD&D and in B/X is to make combat deadly and thus desirable to avoid.
  • Daztur. “Combat as Sport vs. Combat as War: a Key Difference in D&D Play Styles”, EN World. Argues that there are two different understandings of combat across editions of D&D: as war versus as as sport. The former is ‘old-school’ for how its unfair encounters and other situations lead to creative problem-solving.
  • Johann. “My Trinity of Old School Gaming (Part 3)”, Out for Blood. The author explains three cyclical aspects of what he considers old-school play: quick character generation, simple and exciting combat, and a high mortality rate.
  • Macy, Joshua. “XP for Loot in D&D”, Tales of the Rambling Bumblers. Receiving XP for treasure looted from a dungeon results in a different drive for play than receiving XP for killing monsters; the former leads to more creative and interesting play.
  • Jack. “Matt Rundle’s Anti-Hammerspace Item Tracker”, Rotten Pulp. An abstract inventory management system based on containers of discrete slots, to explicate where exactly characters are holding or carrying their items.
  • Campbell, Courtney. “On Set Design”, Hack & Slash. An explanation of how to write room descriptions using tree structures with more detail (and treasure) on lower levels of the tree, accessible upon closer investigation.
  • S., Brendan. "OD&D Equipment", Necropraxis. Random tables for character equipment by class for OD&D plus Greyhawk, in order to speed up character creation since buying gear is often so time-consuming.
  • S., Brendan. "Abstracting missiles", Necropraxis. Abstract the tracking of ammunition by instead tracking 'ammo dice' to represent collections of ammunition rather than individual pieces. On a roll of 1 (usually on an ammo die of d6), the collection is extinguished.
  • Sivaranjan, Ramanan. "Random D&D Characters, Huzzah!", Save vs. Total Party Kill. Web application that generates random characters using random equipment tables published on Necropraxis earlier in 2012.
  • Jensen, Erik. "Getting Worse", Wampus Country. Explains how to improvise the outcomes of failed actions in order to introduce more interesting opportunities for decision-making and play.
  • L., Gus. "Dungeon Design and Stocking - with examples!", Dungeon of Signs. Explains how to stock dungeons with a view to naturalistic (i.e. internally consistent, as part of a "living world") environments, while aiming for playability.

2013

  • S., Brendan. "OSR dogma recency", Necropraxis. The OSR play style, rather than being a rediscovery of an original way to play, is really a reinterpretation. This can be seen in how actual old works emphasize balance and fairness, whereas the OSR embraces unfair circumstances.
  • L., Gus. “Thoughts Regarding Character Mortality and Old School Dungeons and Dragons”, Dungeon of Signs. Classic D&D is not about high lethality, as much as it is about the party as the subject of play where characters are merely instruments thereof. It is a cooperative game at its core.
  • Knight, Logan. "I'd Hit That", Last Gasp. Replaces hit points with two resources called "flesh" and "grit", which formally distinguish hit points that represent physical well-being from hit points that represent stamina or luck.
  • Laviolette, John. "Why I Prefer OD&D", The Nine and Thirty Kingdoms. The OD&D ruleset is unrivaled in its simplicity and flexibility, in such a way that facilitates a game that's easy to play and improvise on the spot.
  • Rossi, Wayne. "OD&D Setting Posts in PDF", Semper Initiativus Unum. Compilation of posts about the implied setting of the OD&D booklets, a pastiche of wildly different fantasy worlds with Martians, troglodytes, and dinosaurs.
  • B., John. “A Procedure for Wandering Monsters”, The Retired Adventurer. An elaboration upon the wandering monster check, introducing a new schema where a wandering monster means rolling for an encounter, a lair, a spoof, tracks, or traces of the monster.
  • Kemp, Arnold. "Armor and Inventory Jr.", Goblin Punch. Elaborates upon Kemp's slot-based inventory and encumbrance system (linked in this post), with new applications. Also explains how to "attack every part of the character sheet" by writing monster abilities which ruin items.

2014

  • S., Brendan. “Overloading the Encounter Die”, Necropraxis. The encounter die, which in B/X was a 1-in-6 chance of a random monster every 2 turns, can be expanded to include more outcomes indexed to other rolls of the die. This way, the entirety of the dungeon crawling game can be emulated through random outcomes.
  • S., Brendan. "Proceduralism", Necropraxis. Proceduralism is the extent to which the activity of players and of the referee is directed by the ruleset. As something sought out by authors, it is perhaps better represented by The Forge than by early D&D.
  • L., Gus. “Towards a Taxonomy of ‘Trick’ Monsters”, Dungeon of Signs. An explanation of unique monster abilities and categories thereof, which can be used to challenge players beyond just counting hit points.
  • Kutalik, Chris. "Pointcrawl Series Index", Hill Cantons. A series of posts written in the two years after the original pointcrawl post (2012), for how to use pointcrawls in a variety of contexts.
  • S., Brendan. “Hazard System v0.2”, Necropraxis. Extends the functionality of the overloaded encounter die into new contexts of play activity, creating analogous procedures for them.

2015

  • Collins, Daniel. "On Callers", Delta's D&D Hotspot. The role of the caller is to represent the group of players to the referee, to summarize the party's actions for a turn or just to simplify communication between the referee and a large group of players.
  • Manola, Joseph. "On romantic fantasy and OSR D&D", Against The Wicked City. Although OSR campaigns are most commonly associated with the violent tropes of the sword & sorcery genre, its play conventions (esp. reaction and morale) can also facilitate non-violent conflict resolution.
  • Whelan, Nick L.S. "Spending Money", Papers & Pencils. The first post explains the common issue of how players accumulate so much gold pieces that there's nothing to spend them on. Subsequent posts in the series offer solutions: better armor, magic items, and training.
  • Schroeder, Alex. “Introduction [to Sandbox Play]”, Alex Schroeder. An old-school dungeon crawl uses rules from 1980s editions of D&D and takes place in a mythic underworld, as per J. Cone (2007); the campaign is not planned out but is determined by the actions of players.

2016

  • Kemp, Arnold. “Dungeon Checklist”, Goblin Punch. A checklist of seven things which a dungeon needs in order to be desirable and interesting to explore for players. The first item on the list is “something to steal”.
  • S., Brendan. "Doctrine of proceduralism", Necropraxis. Whereas before proceduralism was defined as the degree to which play activity is directed (2013), now it is applied as a practical method for writing rulesets to achieve outcomes of play.
  • Kemp, Arnold. “‘Rulings Not Rules’ is Insufficient’”, Goblin Punch. The old-school mantra “rulings, not rules” obscures how system is not the only factor of play experience, but also: the adventure, the referee, and the players. Creative play must be encouraged on all these levels, not just in rules or a lack thereof.
  • Kemp, Arnold. "The GLOG", Goblin Punch. Introduces The Goblin Rules of Gaming, a homebrew ruleset that proved very influential for its building-block character creation system and magic system. 
  • Shear, Jack. "Just Use Bears", Tales of the Grotesque and Dungeonesque. Whenever you don't have a stat-block for a monster, why not use your ruleset's stat-block for a bear? No one will know the difference!
  • Alexander, Justin. "Open Table Manifesto", The Alexandrian. A series of posts explaining how to facilitate an open table campaign: quick character creation, an "easy-access" system, open group formation, default goals and actions, regenerative content, and campaign time management.
  • Manola, Joseph. “OSR aesthetics of ruin”, Against The Wicked City. Old-school settings tend to have motifs of post-collapse and societal decay, which contributes to the community’s preoccupation with horror tropes and also gives player-characters good reason to freely explore the game-world.
  • L., Gus. “Monster Design and Necessity”, Dungeon of Signs. An explanation of the random encounter tables in OD&D, and how the implicit categories of power and intelligence can be used as a basis for new encounter tables.
  • Manola, Joseph. “Old-School Space vs. New-School Time”, Against The Wicked City. Whereas new modules have predetermined plots of events where location is incidental, old-school modules present spaces which players can freely navigate unrestricted by a plot. Movement in time versus movement in space.
  • Manola, Joseph. “Conceptual density (or ‘What are RPG books for, anyway?’)”, Against The Wicked City. Many adventures do not offer anything which you cannot make up by yourself on the fly, whereas they should ideally serve to offer ideas you couldn’t have come up with.

2017

  • Whelan, Nick L.S. "Structuring Encounter Tables", Papers & Pencils. A scheme for a 2d6 encounter table with 11 entries. Nine of the entries are specific to different locations but, no matter where, a 2 is always a dragon and a 12 is always a wizard.
  • Stuart, Patrick. "How I Make an Adventure - Part 1", False Machine. Explains the practicalities of how to make a playable adventure, starting from the big idea to writing details in Notepad to writing the final module.
  • B., John. "An Updated Version of My Chase Rules", The Retired Adventurer. A procedure for chases where the pursuing side and fugitive side make contested rolls while they run away, shoot missiles, or exchange melees.
  • Manola, Joseph. "The long haul: time and distance in D&D", Against The Wicked City. Taking the Arthurian role-playing game Pendragon as a model, one can similarly treat dungeon expeditions as extensive annual affairs rather than casual visits to a nearby hole in the ground.
  • Skerples. "Tomb of the Serpent Kings Megapost", Coins and Scrolls. Offers an introductory dungeon to help acclimate players new to the OSR play style, inspired by the first level of Super Mario Bros which teaches players how to play without giving direct instructions.
  • Whelan, Nick L.S. “Flux Space in Dungeons”, Papers & Pencils. Flux space represents the edges between nodes (locations) on a point crawl, which can also be elaborated upon as intersections between locales and as interactable areas in themselves. Originally used for abstract dungeon mapping, but can be applied to point crawls in general.
  • McDowall, Chris. "Decisive Combat", Bastionland. Explains the rationale to have no attack rolls and low hit points in Into the Odd, which has since become prototypical of later OSR rulesets.
  • Stuart, Patrick. "Held Kinetic Energy in Old School Combat Arenas", False Machine. How to make combat environments which proffer interesting decisions and make for interesting arenas, according to three factors: multi-dimensionality, kinesis, and meta elements.
  • Skerples. "Medieval Price List", Coins and Scrolls. Provides an internally-consistent list of medieval prices for goods and services, based on previous posts about sources of income from land, indulgences, and professions.
  • Kemp, Arnold. "Impact", Goblin Punch. Unless an event or item has the ability to permanently change the course of the game, players will not be invested in its outcome and it will be much less interesting and fun for them.
  • Shorten, Michael. "Just Three Hexes - Campaign Starters", Chicagowiz's Games. All you need to kickstart a campaign is just three hexes for adventuring and one for a homebase. This keeps prep time short, and also gives your players more significant choices to start off with.

2018

  • Manola, Joseph. "When all you have is a hammer: item-based problem-solving in OSR D&D", Against The Wicked City. Players can use items which their characters have on hand to invent creative and novel solutions to problems.
  • Hunter, Anne. “Sub-Hex Crawling Mechanics - Part 1, Pointcrawling”, DIY & dragons. An exploration of various ways to navigate the inside of a hex while exploring the overworld, this time focused on making pointcrawls inside of hexes.
  • Huso, Anthony. "The Way We Really Play, Really: Movement on the Board", The Blue Bard. Explains how to play AD&D using miniature figures and movement-per-segment, taking for its basis the A.D.D.I.C.T. pamphlet by David M. Prada (2006).
  • Allen, Emily. "Duels in OSR", Cavegirl's Game Stuff. Offers an abstract rock-papers-scissors method to introduce an additional layer of tactics onto duels. The outcome of the minigame gives the winner bonuses to regular attack or damage rolls, depending on their action.
  • Stuart, Patrick. "Natural Language and Gross Positioning", False Machine. How to use natural language, as an abstraction of reality with which everyone is familiar, to describe the positioning of characters and things in a theater-of-the-mind game.
  • S., Brendan. “State of the art”, Necropraxis. There are many ways in which the OSR community has improved upon the conventions of play it has received from old rulebooks: quick character generation, minimal bookkeeping, and player-focused content (as opposed to materials used only by the referee).
  • Hunter, Anne. "Two Good Links on Resource Management", DIY & dragons. A review of two posts about contemporary resource management, which (following "State of the Art") has become an emphasis of old-school play.
  • McDowall, Chris. "34 Good Traps", Bastionland. A good trap should be in part immediately detectable, it should allow investigation, and it should meaningfully harm its victim(s). They are basically puzzles with "nasty consequences".
  • Knight, Logan. "Death & Dismemberment", Last Gasp. Another solution to the problem originally posed in "I'd Hit That" (2013), where characters upon reaching 0 hit points must roll on a table for what specific injuries and wounds they incur.
  • Milton, Ben, Steven Lumpkin, & David Perry. Principia Apocrypha. An updated primer for principles of old-school play that reflects later developments since Finch's seminal primer.
  • McDowall, Chris. "The ICI Doctrine: Information, Choice, Impact", Bastionland. In order to empower players with agency in the game, they should be given enough information to act upon meaningful choices with significant impact (as per Kemp's "Impact" from 2017).
  • L., Gus. "The Classic Dungeon Crawl", All Dead Generations. Introduction to a series about the key aspects of a classic dungeon crawl game: exploration, time management, supply, and threat.

2019

  • Hunter, Anne. “8 Abilities - 6, 3, or 4 Ability Scores?”, DIY & dragons. Although D&D and clones typically lists 6 ability scores, there is an implicit set of 8 (2^3) possible abilities based on 3 binaries: physical versus mental, force versus grace, and attack versus defend.
  • S., Brendan. "No homework!", Necropraxis. Argues that players should not be expected to do 'homework' in order to participate in a campaign, whether that means complicated character creation or learning about the 'lore' of the game-world. 
  • B., John. "The Rhythm of Procedure", The Retired Adventurer. Although often discussed in terms of diegetic duration, the actual length of a turn (e.g. one minute, ten minutes, four hours) is not as important as the game loop created by the actual structure of the turn (e.g. one iteration of the procedure for encounters, dungeon exploration, hex crawling, etc.).
  • Laviolette, John. "Improved Hunting and Foraging", The Nine and Thirty Kingdoms. An updated version of Laviolette's minigames for hunting and foraging (2011), with an additional rule where a failed result on the d6 is equal to how much time passes before a guaranteed success.
  • Laurence, Ben. "Pleasures of the OSR," Mazirian's Garden. Series of posts explaining key aspects of OSR-style play: secrecy and discovery, emergent stories and open worlds, and player challenges. 
  • Skerples. "Emergency One-Page Dungeon Folder", Coins and Scrolls. You can keep a binder full of one-page dungeons for when you don't have a dungeon designed ahead of time. Also explains principles of good one-page dungeon design.
  • Allen, Emily. "Terminology - Diegetic vs Non Diegetic", Cavegirl's Game Stuff. Explains the concept of diegesis, where something actually exists in a fictional world, and how this can be used to understand diegetic versus non-diegetic aspects of tabletop games.
  • Laurence, Ben. "Downtime Activities: Splendid Items", Mazirian's Garden. Explanation of downtime procedure as a way to abstract the passage of calendar time, while also turning it into a minigame for long-term player-character activities.
  • L., Gus. "A NOTE: On Encumbrance, Treasure, and Session Structure," All Dead Generations. Explains the relationship between resource management and treasure hunting as they pertain to the main loop of the dungeon crawl game. Also explains the benefits of abstract inventory management using slots.
  • Akins, Charles. "The Gygax '75 Challenge: Introduction", Dragons Never Forget. Originates the 5-week world-building inspired by a procedure explained by Gary Gygax in 1975. By the end of the 5 weeks, the participant will have a campaign world ready to play with.
  • Hunter, Anne. "Landmark, Hidden, Secret", DIY & dragons. Explains a schema for hex crawls where each hex has three levels of information: landmark information which is immediately detectable, hidden information which requires time and risk to discover, and secret information which is expensive to learn and even risks failure.
  • Layla. "New School Revolution", The Bone Box Chant. Offers a definition of the 'new-school revolution', or NSR. NSR games have a referee, a weird setting, and a living world. They are rules-light and deadly. They focus on emergent narrative, external interaction, and exploration. Rather than being new, it seems like a reflection on previous developments up to that point.

2020

  • Laurence, Ben. "Downtime Activities: Building an Institution", Mazirian's Garden. Explains how to use downtime turns as a frame for creating institutions, allowing characters to spend gold to invest in their business or other organization. This allows a seamless transition into domain play, if so desired.
  • Islam, Ava. "Rules and Diegesis", Permanent Cranial Damage. Distinguishes rules that exist outside of the game-world, versus rules that describe how objects in the game-world interact with each other.
  • L., Nate. "how i did my megadungeon", Swamp of Monsters! Design a megadungeon by focusing initially on levels rather than on individual rooms. Write down concepts for rooms on each level, but only develop them in detail as players get closer to exploring those areas.
  • Whelan, Nick L.S. "Two Week Megadungeon", Papers & Pencils. Using randomly-generated maps, encounter tables, and faction politics, you can (relatively) quickly design and populate a megadungeon with monsters, treasure, and thematic elements.
  • Hunter, Anne. "XP for Exploration - Maps, Monster Drawings, and More!", DIY & dragons. Instead of rewarding XP for GP, you can reward XP for traveling to new places and learning more about the world.
  • Otspill. "The Grand d666", Being An Asshole To A Goblin (BAATG). A flexible world-building technique where you create a semi-organized d666 table (6^3 indices for that many concepts) to serve as an oracular aid for referee's block.
  • Skerples. "Hireling Morale and Fear", Coins and Scrolls. Explains the central role that morale and fear play (should) in combat, and offers solutions for how to account for them in encounters.
  • L., Gus. "One Page Dungeon Design", All Dead Generations. The goal for a one page dungeon is not ultraminimalism, but instead: brevity, visual simplicity, and a reduced sense of scale. This makes for a much more useful sheet in practice.
  • Collins, Daniel. "Damn You, Gygax! Part 4", Delta's D&D Hotspot. Whereas the underworld encounter tables in OD&D were specific to the Greyhawk dungeon, the encounter tables in the AD&D DMG attempt to fit every single monster from the MM into the tables. This makes random encounters feel arbitrary.
  • Dwiz. "Campaign-Level Play Part 3: Tools for Campaign Systems", A Knight at the Opera. How to use calendars and purposeful world-building to create an engaging context for players to begin participating in campaign-level or domain play.

2021

  • Smith, W.F. "Don't List Out Gear", Prismatic Wasteland. Instead of listing individual equipment items, use spark tables to randomly generate adjective-noun phrases which can serve as unique and random starting items.
  • Dwiz. "Abstract Timekeeping Mechanics", A Knight at the Opera. Following the author's previous discussion on facilitating campaign-level play, this post explains how to use abstract calendars to simplify the task of long-term timekeeping.
  • Stuart, Patrick. "Sticky Goblins", False Machine. Explains how to make encounters more 'sticky' by considering their openness (how much are the players incentivized to act?), their neutrality (how much will you be forced to take a side, or otherwise interact?), and their consequences.
  • Collins, Daniel. "The Big Mistake in Weapon vs. Armor Adjustments", Delta's D&D Hotspot. Gygax's conversion of the melee table from Chainmail to D&D has a fundamental flaw in its mathematics, since it does not account for how weapons act against different armor classes. 
  • L., Gus. "So You Want to Build a Dungeon?", All Dead Generations. Explains how to design a dungeon according to contemporary sensibilities, and accounting for shorter play sessions compared to the early years of D&D.
  • Stuart, Patrick. "The Auction of the First Hundred Words", False Machine. Explains how to prioritize descriptions of dungeon rooms and other fictional things by focusing on the most immediate information to the least detectable or significant.
  • B., John. "Six Cultures of Play", The Retired Adventurer. Explains six broad communities of tabletop game players united by common goals and practices: classic, traditional, Nordic LARP, story games, the OSR, and neo-traditional/OC.
  • Maliszewski, James. "Before the OSR", Grognardia. Suggests that the OSR as a movement with its own goals began around 2008, with the death of Gary Gygax and the release of D&D Fourth Edition. Nevertheless, the OSR owes its existence to the publication of three retroclones from 2004 to 2006: Castles & Crusades, OSRIC, and Basic Fantasy RPG.
  • Smith, W.F. "Spell Lists Are Not Magical", Prismatic Wasteland. A taxonomy of different magic systems and a critique of the tendency to use hard-coded spell lists, which do not feel very magical. Offers a 'soft' magic system based on negotiation between player and referee.
  • Islam, Ava. "Memory Problems", Permanent Cranial Damage. Argues that there are three tiers of memory complexity for rules: automatic rules (always occur unconditionally), speed bump rules (moments to check for conditions and execute other rules), and extemporaneous rules (occur when called for). Speed bumps work best when they incentivize engagement.
  • L., Gus. "A Structure for Classic Exploration Procedure", All Dead Generations. Compares 'classical' dungeon crawl procedure, originating from old editions of D&D, to 'neo-classical' dungeon crawl procedure informed by Necropraxis' hazard system (2014) and other contemporary innovations.
  • Smith, W.F. "The Basic Procedure of the OSR", Prismatic Wasteland. The atomic procedure of old-school play, or of role-playing in general, is the discourse that takes place between the referee and the players. This discourse can be structured to better facilitate player engagement and input.
  • Weird Cranium. "Combat Maneuvers, The Easy Way", Odd Skull. Revisits the combat maneuver procedure introduced, perhaps, by Joshua Macy of Tales of the Rambling Bumblers in 2009. The attacker is allowed to declare a maneuver. Upon rolling damage, the target decides whether to take that damage or accept the maneuver declared against them.
  • Pitre, Ty. "Adding Congruency to Anti Canon Worldbuilding", mindstorm. In order to facilitate group world-building without it becoming ridiculous or without the referee becoming dictatorial, you can define 'world anchors' (major thematic or aesthetic elements) with your friends which then serve as the foundation of the game-world's fiction.

Forum Threads

This collection is probably going to be more informal. In what contexts were the terms 'old-school', 'old-school revival', or 'old-school renaissance' first used? What other conversations were taking place on forums? Here are some quotes.

  • "If the 'old-school revival' continues to pick up steam and the current game continues to flounder (if, say, Eberron flops and/or the collectible minis game dries up) sooner or later some bean-counter at Hasbro who doesn't have an emotional attachment to the current edition is going to realize that there's a demand (i.e. money to be made) for 'collector's editions' of the classic games (OD&D, AD&D, B/X D&D) and we'll see them back on the shelves in some form or another." (2004-08-11)
  • "The populatity [sic] of none d20 systems is again growing with WFRP selling second only to WoTs D&D. CoC and GURPS have also seen a slight revival in their market share. Compare this to the decrease in sales of d20 material over the last year (although still high). Over production and over stock is leading many online stores to slash prices. An old school renaissance could be on the horizon. C&C is ahead of the game for the moment but this won't remain the case for long. Already Green Ronin are toying with the idea of going rules lite and have put True20 out to RPG publishers for settings an ideas." (2005-06-25)
  • "I think it is a mistake to equate 'old school' games with 'rules light' games. E.g. The Angel and Buffy games from Eden have been quite successful (given their niche status), and are rules light in nature, but certainly not 'old school'. Conversely, Runequest 2e is about as 'old school' as one can get, but is definitely not 'rules light' (and neither is OAD&D, IMO). True 20 is trying to be a 'rules light' alternative to d20 (it has many other, generally favourable, differences as well). It is definitely not trying to be 'old school'. In contrast, 'old school' is one of C&C's main selling points." (2005-06-26)
  • "To be fair, this is isn’t necessarily a bug. Some folks like to have everything spelled out for them. What this density of rules is not is old-school, where when we believed that GM discretion/fiat was an integral part of the game." (2005-12-06) This opinion seems to contradict the ethos of AD&D.

Rulebook Publications

This will be much less detailed. For now, it's just me copying and pasting my own reference list from my notes. As the hobby becomes increasingly commercialized and as digital publication platforms lower the barrier to entry, there are increasingly more rulebooks (or 'games') being published. It becomes much more difficult to judge which ones have really impacted the field, especially after the closure of G+ and the subsequent fracturing of the community that was there. That being said, when publishing rulebooks was much more of a 'production' (such that the term 'heartbreaker' was invented to describe D&D-derived books that were expensively published but not popularly received, see Edwards 2002), rulebooks that achieved some level of prominence can be said to represent serious currents in the hobby. I think this holds true for most of the rulebooks listed here, at least prior to ~2019 when the market seems to have really exploded.

Another factor is that, for a long time, the community as a whole was not geared towards the production of rulebooks or 'games'. That is a very new phenomenon, limited to the community centered on Twitter and Itch.io which is made up mostly of aspirant 'game designers'. This is not to say that no one talked about their own house rules or even complete systems on blogs etc., but it was not a prerogative to publish your own rulebook (nor was this really possible before mass digital publication). Therefore, rather than taking these rulebooks as representative of any community's activity at some point in time, we should consider their role in cementing certain ideas propagated by their representative community. For example, OSRIC was not published because the goal of the old-school revival was to make retroclone rulebooks, but because certain members of that community wanted to make the AD&D ruleset accessible while it was basically discontinued by Wizards of the Coast. This doesn't mean that everyone was trying to make their own retroclone; when AD&D is your frame of reference (generally speaking), that makes a retroclone a big undertaking.

A more reliable survey of publication culture prior to ~2019 might focus on adventure modules, which were either made for specific longstanding systems (e.g. D&D, AD&D, D&D Basic/Expert) or not for any particular ruleset at all. However, here we experience the inverse problem that we do now. There were relatively more adventures and supplemental materials being published early on, including those which were only 'published' informally online rather than as significant publications (which is not a distinction of importance to historical analysis, but of importance to the community which made them). Some big names might include Deep Carbon Observatory or Death Frost Doom or Veins of the Earth, which are especially significant for being set in non-Gygaxian worlds. What about Clive's Fish Market or Dragon Castle, published on Dragonsfoot for AD&D? This is just one reason that a list of published works often tells an incomplete story, and you should take a list like the one below with a grain of salt.

A slightly outdated but very extensive list of retroclones can be found here (link); I'll try to update this listing with some entries from that page, and add more detailed information about the books in general.

2000

  • Dungeons & Dragons, Third Edition.

2003

  • Dungeons & Dragons, v. 3.5.

2004

  • Castles & Crusades.

2005

  • Encounter Critical.

2006

  • Mazes & Minotaurs.
  • OSRIC.

2007

  • Basic Fantasy Role-Playing Game.
  • Labyrinth Lord.

2008

  • Dungeons & Dragons, Fourth Edition.
  • Swords & Wizardry.

2009

  • OpenQuest.
  • Swords & Wizardry Whitebox.

2010

  • Dark Dungeons.
  • Stars Without Number.

2011

  • Lamentations of the Flame Princess.
  • Mazes & Perils.
  • Neoclassical Geek Revival.
  • Old School Hack.

2012

  • Delving Deeper.
  • Dungeon Crawl Classics.
  • For Gold & Glory.

2013

  • Blueholme.
  • Pits and Perils.
  • Swords & Wizardry Complete.
  • Torchbearer.
  • Whitehack First Edition

2014

  • Beyond the Wall.
  • Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition.

2015

  • Freebooters on the Frontier.
  • Into the Odd.
  • Shadow of the Demon Lord.
  • Whitehack, Second Edition.
  • White Star.

2016

  • The Black Hack.
  • Maze Rats.

2018

  • Best Left Buried.
  • The Black Hack, Second Edition.
  • Knave.
  • Mothership (now considered 'Edition 0' or '0e').
  • Troika!

2019

  • Electric Bastionland.
  • Five Torches Deep.
  • Low Fantasy Gaming.
  • Macchiato Monsters.
  • Mausritter.
  • Mörk Borg.
  • Old School Essentials.
  • Troika! Numinous Edition.
  • The Ultraviolet Grasslands.

2020

  • Barbarians of the Ruined Earth.
  • Cairn.
  • Mausritter, Expanded Edition.

Glossary

Besides defining certain acronyms used above, this section serves as a small timeline of TSR's publication history under Gygax (i.e. the publication history of Dungeons & Dragons rulesets prior to 1985). This excludes the publication of AD&D Second Edition in 1989, and of D&D Rules Cyclopedia in 1991. Wizards of the Coast would buy out TSR in 1997, and publish D&D Third Edition in 2000.

  • D&D: Refers to both the brand of tabletop role-playing game materials, Dungeons & Dragons, and also to D&D as a cultural phenomenon and practice.
  • OD&D (Gygax & Arneson 1974): The original Dungeons & Dragons. Also known as the little brown books or LBBs, since it was published as three volumes: Men & Magic, Monsters & Treasure, and Underworld & Wilderness Adventures.
  • AD&D (Gygax 1977-9): The original Advanced Dungeons & Dragons line. Consists of the Monster Manual (MM), Player's Handbook (PHB), and Dungeon Master's Guide (DMG).
  • D&D Basic (Holmes 1977): The original Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set.
  • D&D B/X (Moldvay & Cook 1981): The Dungeons & Dragons Basic/Expert Set.
  • D&D BECMI (Mentzer 1983-5): The third edition of the Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set, with five volumes: Basic, Expert, Companion, Master, and Immortal.

Comments

  1. 2021 also had the anti-canon discussion in the last months; the most useful post out of that for me (which might not be a 'keystone' post, but signposted that discussion for me) was this one:

    https://mindstorm.blot.im/2021/12/23/adding-congruency-to-anti-canon-worldbuilding

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. thank you for bringing this up! ty is a good friend, so it makes me happy his post made an impact on that conversation :) it was a really good one! just added it to the list

      Delete
  2. This is fantastic, an excellent resource.

    ReplyDelete
  3. BTW, Oddysey (How to Start a Revolution in 21 Days) should be credited as "Nat" rather than "Natalie"

    ReplyDelete

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