So I happened to notice the other day that an OSR blogger came up with a list of "OSR release dates", as a "timeline" for a series on "OSR for the lapsed gamer", presumably meant to be an orderly explanation of what the OSR is, where it came from, etc.
Now, I just have to say that, from a historiographical standpoint, it reads a bit to me like someone creating a history, rather than an accurate portrayal of history. It looks at the rise of old-school gaming from the perspective of the OSRIC project and Dragonfoot forums, which obviously was an important part of things, but was far from what helped old-school take off.
It may be unfair, you might think, to criticize what is obviously a very reduced list; but even the link in that blog to a much larger list seems to suffer from the same mistake: it has historical blinders, seeking to imagine that the whole Old-school Revival was exclusively started and owes its success to people wanting to precisely mimic and clone old D&D rule-sets. You could say this is a case of "Revenge of the Clones", where although Clonemania has long since fallen out of favor, now the goal is to suggest that this was the real and true heart and essence of what the revival of Old-school gaming was (and perhaps what it should be?) about.
But you see, I was there too. And I remember it quite differently. OSRIC was of tremendous interest to a tiny group of "grognards" who seemed to have relatively very little interest (at that time) in spreading the word anywhere and would likely have been relegated to a tiny corner of history were it not for some other important events that took place, and releases of games, that fueled people's imaginations.
Back in 2006, I (and most other people) might have had some vague idea that there was a group of obsessives that were trying to reverse-engineer AD&D 1e without violating copyright, and that for some damn reason they named their project after one of the lesser-known Princes of Amber. But that wasn't exciting us, or most anyone.
No, what was getting a whole bunch of people outside that little circle interested in Old-School in a big way was something called Encounter Critical.
It had alleged to be a "rediscovered" very small-print RPG from the late 70s that was ridiculous in its Gonzo qualities; at the time, though many took it at its word, I thought it was just too perfectly nostalgic to be real. And sure enough, it turned out to be a hoax, written by the incredible S. John Ross, who was destined to be a future co-Consultant of mine on the 5e project.
The thought of re-making an exact identical copy of AD&D 1e might have been getting the boys at dragonsfoot all wet, but pretty well everywhere else, people were really fucking excited about Encounter Critical.
And about Mazes and Minotaurs. Also released in 2006, this was a brand new RPG that alleged to be a "new edition" of a classic old-school game (that never actually existed). It was the first OSR-Variant, a game that looked at the original D&D rules and then tweaked them in a way that totally fit old-school sensibilities but that had never actually been imagined in the 1970s. In M&M's case, it was to say "let's take D&D but assume it is inspired by Greek Mythology instead of medieval fantasy".
So what's curious about our 'instructive' lists of an 'OSR timeline' above? You'll note that neither of the lists actually have either Encounter Critical or Mazes & Minotaurs on them.
This in spite of the fact that BOTH of these games came out 1-2 years BEFORE OSRIC actually came out in its full form. They got a shitload of people excited (or re-excited) about old-school style and play before anyone had heard of the seemingly-endless march of precise copies of games people already owned.
But I guess that's the point: there's a certain interest, I think, in wanting to make it appear like what "owns" the OSR, what "made" it, was the Clonemania. Like the whole point was the mindless endless rehashing of old ground, rather than being excited about the challenge of unleashing spectacular new creativity within the boundaries and landmarks of Old-School design.
So I thought I'd remind the Clonemaniacs of an inconvenient truth: the OSR-Variants came first. They not only ended up being what people were excited about more than Clones, they were what caught people's imaginations BEFORE the Clones (temporarily) hijacked the OSR. And without them, the whole of the OSR might still just be a couple of dozen guys on dragonsfoot.
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