Art of the Genre: The Old School Renaissance

Art of the Genre: The Old School Renaissance

When old is new again, the reprints of 1E AD&D by WotC
When old is new again: The reprints of 1E AD&D by WotC
Almost two years ago I got fed up with rules. Well, sure, I’ve probably never been one to take rules seriously anyway, but in RPGs they can become cumbersome very quickly. This is probably one of the biggest knocks on D&D 3rd Edition, although I was still taken with the game the moment I laid eyes on it.

Since 2000, I’d regularly played 3rd Edition in some form or other, either in 3.5 or Pathfinder, and found the boundless customizations, prestige classes, skills, and feats an addictive agent as my gaming world grew. Still, at some point, all the calculations begin to wear on you and you long for the ‘good old days’ when leveling up a character meant rolling for hit points, checking every third level to see if your saving throws went down, or adding a spell or two.

This feeling of being overburdened came to a head in 2011 as I decided I’d take down my long unused and dusty 1E AD&D tomes from the shelf where they looked longingly at me day after day. There, amid the wonder of my youth, I rediscovered the simplicity of the original Gygax and Arneson texts.

Every page number is identicle to the old texts, as is the awesome art!
Every page number is identicle to the old texts, as is the awesome art!

Like me, countless others have done the same over the past twenty years since the release of 2E AD&D, and sometime in the mid 2000s a movement called The Old School Renaissance [OSR] hit the gaming marketplace. In it, small presses like Pied Piper, Goodman Games, and Troll Lord started making retro-clones of the original AD&D or some kind of throwback supplementation that could be used in any setting.

This demand steadily grew, and as I took out my Player’s Handbook, Dungeon Master’s Guide, and Monster Manual, I was as hooked as all those old gamers before me in returning to a simpler time where my gaming sessions didn’t have to match up against comic book heroics or the 3D modeling of MMORPGs. That’s right, I no longer needed to ‘pwn people’…

That is probably the biggest appeal to the OSR, a return to adventure as adventure was meant to be (at least in the eyes of the movement). Dungeon delves, multiple character deaths, low-level grinds where you never see your favorite warrior or wizard break double digits in their class.

Sure, to the Redbull-addicted, Tweet-obsessed, Text-crazed, and A.D.D. culture that the American advertising machine is producing, such ‘adventures’ may sound dull and a waste of appropriated screen time, but for another generation, one that earned experience points one hard-fought point at a time, the lessons of OSR called like a siren song.

Thus, I decided I’d play a bit of 1E when my yearly sojourn to Indiana came about and my six High School friends and I got together for a week’s worth of role-playing. Truly, it was an amazing experience going back in time, so much so that I travelled back in my gaming world to place a campaign in the past as well.

Take a gander at the original Player's Handbook for comparison
Take a gander at the original Player's Handbook for comparison

Cracking the now stale spines of those fantastic books felt like home, and the rekindling of a love affair with 1E AD&D was in full bloom. Since that time I’ve managed four campaigns set in the OSR, and each time they bring a warm, and deadly, feeling.

It was with great interest then when I heard my good friend Jon Schindehette over at Wizards of the Coast was placed in charge of delivering three special edition reprints of the original Player’s Handbook, Dungeon Master’s Guide, and Monster Manual.

The process by which these tomes were recreated, from nothing but the original books taken apart and reconstituted in digital form, is amazing. Without original art, all images had to be salvaged from existing books, and the process of recreating each book in the exact same form and format of the originals is a wonder to behold.

When I held these books for the first time (they were all released on the 18th of July), I couldn’t believe how well each had been done. They were duplicates in every way save for the fine covers now resembling leather and the gold leaf attached to the pages. I was also incredibly pleased that proceeds from the sales of these books were going to the Gygax Memorial Fund, something for gamers by gamers.

So in the end, not only had I returned to my roots, but so had the game itself, and as I played another dungeon delve at this year’s GenCon, I got the chance to utilize my new/old books just as I did back in the day.

If you are feeling anything like OSR, I highly suggest grabbing these books while they last. You won’t be disappointed, and perhaps you can introduce a new generation to something worthwhile from ours.

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