An essay on “Old School Gaming”

Posted in Uncategorized by Michael "Chgowiz" on February 15, 2010

(reprinted with permission by finarvyn and dubeers – original discussion thread can be found on the OD&D Board here.)

Thoughts on Old School – by finarvyn

There was a thread on Dragonsfoot talking about the “problem” with Old School gaming. I created a lengthy reply there, and thought I’d post it here as well to see if it generates any discussion here.

A few semi-random thoughts on this:

1. Classic games are classics for a couple of reasons. One is that they are great games. A second is that they get printed and reprinted. If the 1974 OD&D boxed set was continually being reprinted, it’s possible that it would have become a classic like RISK or Monopoly and might be for sale in every Toys R Us in the country. Sadly, we’ll never know for sure since the publishers took a different direction and tried to evolve the game instead of keep it the same.

2. Imagination isn’t dead, it’s just different. Kids nowadays have access to movies with better CGI and video games so realistic you’d freak. This means that their imaginations tend to be more visual. When I listen to my kids and their friends talk they are still very imaginitive, but it’s different than what I did when I was younger. I used to play cops with toy pistols or solider with toy machine guns, and they play jedi with light sabres that light up and make noise. Not really that different to me, and I would have played with the light sabre had it been around back then. In the same way, I love old B&W movies but don’t think I’d want all of my movies to be redone in B&W.

3. Games versus books. This is an interesting topic, as I do think we need more introductory games that have a rulebook, a map or so, dice, and a pad of character sheets. (Heck, I helped create one; the S&W Whitebox rules were actually for sale in a white box.) But then some would argue that “old school” was make-your-own maps and notecard character sheets, not those fancy pre-printed things. You can’t win either way.

4. Game evolution, and D&D in particular, is a touchy subject here and on most OS boards. The problem with most games is that as they evolve they tend to become more complex, and the more complex a game the harder it is for a newcomer to gain entry without extensive prepping. Star Fleet Battles was a simple game in 1980, insanely complex by 2010 as it has undergone multiple changes to the rulebooks, different packaging of the game, and so many alterations to the quantity of things you need to know in order to play the game. Almost all games go through this process, and D&D is worse becasue it does encourage creativity and begs you to tinker with it. (At least, the early versions did.) That’s why Dragon magazine was so popular, but if you didn’t read Dragon you were out “of the loop” and didn’t know about the newest advancements. If a person moved from AD&D to 3E to 3E to 4E at roughly the same pace as they were developed it wouldn’t be that hard to keep up, but if you try to just hop onboard it’s a rough ride.

So I’m not sure that Old School is dying or anything like that, but it takes a certain kind of person to enjoy it. You tend to strip away the glitz and super powers and settle for something more streamlined and pulpy. It’s the NBA with tight shorts. It’s the NFL with leather helmets. It’s something different than the modern game. I’d hate to say it’s better or worse, but different.

There are a number of products trying to modern-up the OS movement, and in general I think they are doing an excellent job. Labyrinth Lords has newfangled rules for Original, B/X, and Advanced, only without the eye-popping artwork. S&W does much the same thing, only with Original only. C&C is a neat blend of 3E with AD&D. There is also OSRIC and others. They could package those rules with super art but choose to keep an older philosophy because most of the current OS players like it better that way.

Maybe this is the error in our ways, that if we could take OS rules and package them with full-color art on sterroids, maybe we’d bring in more of the younger croud. Take Warhammer and 4E as examples on how it should look, then provide simple and smooth OS mechanics behind the scenes to make the games run faster and smoother.

Just me thinking out loud.  🙂

Comment by dubeers:

Another problem with the so-called “old school” gaming movement is its own fan-base. We’re often so busy bayoneting our own wounded that we don’t have much free time to spend growing the hobby.



TARGA Pledge-an-Auction update!

Posted in Uncategorized by Michael "Chgowiz" on February 12, 2010

The TARGA Pledge-an-Auction fundraiser is doing very well! As of this morning’s item ending, we’ve collected over $100 for the Gygax Family Memorial. Thank you!

We still have plenty of time if you’re interested in making a donation or submitting an item. Joining the auction is simple:

  1. Find some RPG item (hopefully old school related, but not necessary) and put it up for auction, or on sale at Craigslist or some other venue.
  2. When you sell the item, decide on a portion (or all, if you are so inclined) to donate and go to our Auction page and donate it.
  3. Sit back, enjoy your favorite beverage and let the TARGA trolls do their hard work in collecting funds and then donating it to Luke Gygax at this year’s GaryCon!

We’ve had some interesting items go already – a copy of Outdoor Survival, 2 original RPG works of art and a rare copy of the Dungeoneer fanzine. Right now, we have some Traveller items up for sale, including 2 original box set adventures. And there are more items going up for sale this weekend and early next week.

Thank you again for your support and game on!

New addition to the TARGA blog

Posted in Uncategorized by Michael "Chgowiz" on February 4, 2010

We’d like to welcome James, author of the blog The Underdark Gazette, to the TARGA blog. He’s graciously agreed to write “News from around the OSR Blogs” articles for TARGA and we thank him! There is certainly a lot of news to talk about these days.

Reminder! We have ITGW 2010 in the works and we have auctions for our Garycon pledge drive. If you can help out, please do so!

Update on International Traditional Gaming Week events

Posted in Uncategorized by Michael "Chgowiz" on February 4, 2010

I’d like to update you all on the International Traditional Gaming Week events. We have two definite scheduled events so far – and we’d love to add more! If you are planning on running a game for ITGW 2010, or you’re going to dedicate your weekly game to ITGW, please let us know! We’d like to advertise your event and make sure we can get a lot of “butts in chairs” that week.

2nd Annual Dave Arneson Memorial Gameday – The Compleat Strategist, New York City – March 27th, noon – 5 pm
Marathon B2 Keep on the Borderlands Game – Chicagoland Games – Chicago, IL – March 27th, 10am – 10pm

International Traditional Gaming Week 2010 and Pledge-An-Auction 2010

Posted in Uncategorized by Michael "Chgowiz" on January 18, 2010

TARGA Announces International Traditional Gaming Week 2010

TARGA is pleased to announce that the International Traditional Gaming Week 2010 will occur on the week of March 21st through March 27th. The week will be kicked off by the fantastic games happening at GaryCon 2 in Lake Geneva and will conclude with a series of games on March 27th, including a Dave Arneson tribute game to be held in New York City.

What is International Traditional Gaming Week?

Simply put, ITGW is our week to put as many “butts in chairs” at old school games as we can. We’re going to be reaching out to friendly game stores and offer to run demos of these old school games or newer retroclones. We’re going to share with our gaming groups about the fact that We’re Not Alone! We’d like to bring new players into the fold, with games that rock and with some media attention letting people know that “old school is still cool.” We want to reach out to the gamers who wish they could find an AD&D or Gamma World or Tunnels & Trolls game and get them involved.

How can I get involved?

Very simple – schedule a game or demo during that week – either with a local gamestore, or meetup group, or your usual gaming group – and let us know! We’ll make sure advertise your game, as well as provide you with helpful fliers and downloads that you can use to share the old school goodness with your players and attendees.

For more details and a list of ITGW 2010 Events, please go to our ITGW 2010 page.

TARGA Announces Pledge-An-Auction Drive

TARGA is proud to announce that our involvement in GaryCon 2 is more than just moral support and mutual interest. Gary Con 2’s registrations go in support of future cons and any extra will go to the Gygax Family Memorial for use in funding a memorial statue in honor of Gary. TARGA’s mission of supporting old school gaming fits right alongside of this and we want to help! Not all of us can go to Gary Con and even if we could, the fundraising auction there is being kept low key to keep the focus on gaming. However, there’s no reason we can’t hold a virtual auction, and so TARGA is organizing the 2010 “Pledge an Auction for Gary” drive, to start on January 25th!

How does it work?

You have a great old school item that you’d like to auction off, say on Ebay. You pledge a portion of the proceeds for TARGA to collect. You hold the auction, you sell the item, you donate the pledged portion, using our Paypal account. (being set up as we speak!) TARGA will advertise all auctions on this page as well as announce them in our blog and forums. Once we reach the auction deadline of March 15th, we’ll announce a final total of all donations and then present the full donation amount to Luke at Gary Con 2, as part of TARGA’s International Traditional Gaming Week 2010.

It doesn’t have to be a huge amount, every little bit helps, and we want to see more Gary Cons in the future as well as the memorial statue fund grow.

For more information, or auction listings (starting on 1/25), please go to our 2010 Pledge-An-Auction drive page.


Gail Gygax, Gary’s widow, has just released news on the Gygax Family Fund (a different organization from the Memorial Fund, which is organized by Gary’s children) Details on the planned statue can be found here: http://www.gygaxmemorialfund.com/

FAQ: Part the Third

Posted in Uncategorized by akesher on January 15, 2010

Here’s the rest:

RetroWHAT? “SimulWHATRA”?

“Retroclones” are a recent phenomenon. Retroclones attempt to “clone” the rules and mechanics of original versions of games, restating them in (usually) more clear, modern formats with some twists and personal tastes included. “Simulacra” games have the feel and relatively similar mechanics of the original games, but are more about capturing the spirit of traditional play, rather than emulating exact rules.

Many retroclones, especially those of D&D/fantasy type, were born mainly from the fruits of the Open Gaming License that Wizards of the Coast published the third edition of Dungeons & Dragons under. For instance, OSRIC (Old School Reference and Index Compilation) is essentially a recasting of the 3rd edition SRD as the first edition game, complete with AD&D classes, spells and monsters.

These retroclones and simulacra have done two very important things: They’ve injected a new life into original rules and they’ve made it possible for publishers to release new material for original style gaming without trying to license for out-of-print games and intellectual property.

Yeah, but what can TARGA do for me?

TARGA wants to do one thing and do it really well—we want to put “butts in chairs” playing old school games!

That means that if you’re someone who’s interested in the original or out-of-print games, well, if you want to play, we’re here to run the game. If you want to run the game, we want to play, and get other people to come play as well!

We want to reach out to every convention that we know of, every game store in the country (if not the world!), every event that we can put someone at and even in homes—we want people to know that they’re not alone, that the old version of a game that they like isn’t forgotten or lost. In fact, these days, it’s probably better supported than they might think!

We want to reach the people who aren’t sumulacra bloggers, old school forum members, or retroclone publishers as much or more as we want to reach all the people who are active on the Internet. We want to match you up with each other. We want to see you have fun playing old school games. The more of you we reach, the better chance we have of continuing to play these games for a long, long time to come.
Okay, you’ve got my attention—where can I get more information about TARGA and old school gaming?

We have a main website: http://www.traditionalgaming.org,  where we maintain a wiki, a blog, and a link to our email list: TARGATalk@yahoogroups.com. The wiki has information on TARGA events and games being held, as well as contact information for TARGA Regional Coordinators.
What’s a “Regional Coordinator”?

See that lonely hero on the hill? That’s an RC—he or she is standing alone, holding aloft the flame of old school gaming…

Oh man, where did that come from? Anyway… a Regional Coordinator (aka RC) is someone who organizes and runs TARGA events. These might be regular games,  one-shot events at conventions, or demos at game stores. They’ve agreed to be “points of contact” for TARGA. They are the grassroots people who are actively playing and want YOU to play, too!

FAQ: Part the Second

Posted in Uncategorized by akesher on January 14, 2010

Here’s part two:

What is this so-called “old school” gaming of which you speak so ardently?

Do you have a few hours? “Old School Gaming” means a lot of things to a lot of different people, but there are some commonalities many of us seem to share:

  • Old school gaming relies on the rules being guidelines more than the be-all, end-all, final word. The person running the game (GM, DM, Referee, Judge) has the “final say” on how any rules question is resolved, but a good GM is focused on the players and the campaign—meaning committed to making the game enjoyable for all involved.
  • It’s more about you playing your character than playing your character sheet.  The fewer rules you have, the less you have (to be distracted by) on your character sheet. You always have the final say on what your character does—no GM can railroad you into a specific action.
  • The feel of the game is more “average person” than “superheroic powerful being”. The world around your character isn’t fair, balanced, or particularly impressed by your heroic inclinations! Your character earns his name and gains his power through overcoming obstacles and opponents with whatever resources are available.
  • Character creation often takes a minimal amount of time. A back-story is fine, but it’s not the main point—in old school play, the character’s history is often built of what happens in play (player choices!), not what supposedly happened before play.
  • GMs run games based  less on a strict plot of “encounters” or “acts”, and more based on reactions to your decisions and what you do with your character, often including a healthy dose of randomness to spice things up. That’s not to say you won’t participate in harrowing adventures and grand epics, but an old school game is less concerned about a cinematic “plot” and more about people having fun exploring worlds (and possibly getting rich in the bargain!)

You mentioned “do-it-yourself”—so you like to play broken games?

Um, no. We like rules that have lots of wide-open space for customization. The early games usually had minimal rules, often with different systems for different parts of the game, which makes it easy to add or subtract whatever you please. Arneson had alien artifacts; Hargrave had crazy critical hit charts; St. Andre let anyone play anything (actually, Arneson did that, too…) We want the freedom to add all that and more, or strip it down to nothing but a 20-sider and Referee rulings. The point is simply for the whole group to have as much fun as possible, whatever form that might take.

(Dave Arneson was the co-author of Dungeons & Dragons and Blackmoor, Dave Hargrave wrote a fantasy game called Arduin, Ken St. Andre wrote the Tunnels & Trolls fantasy game).

Are you just about D&D?

Well, we DO love D&D, but we also love original games in general, regardless of genre—science fiction, espionage, fantasy, westerns, horror, you name it.

*Edited to fix my idiotic misnaming of Ken St. Andre—-Ken, if you’re reading this, I apologize!

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FAQ: Part the First

Posted in Uncategorized by akesher on January 14, 2010

Over the next few days, I’m going to be posting our brand-new FAQ document. Like all such documents, it will certainly be tweaked, and undoubtedly be updated. We, as always, welcome questions, comments, suggestions.

So, pretend we’re on an elevator—what is TARGA?

TARGA is the Traditional Adventure Roleplaying Games Association. We’re a bunch of gamers who like to play “old school” games—those being defined as “original” roleplaying games, most of which are now out-of-print. We organize old school games at conventions, game stores, events and even out of our homes. We try to keep the flames alive for these old games and provide resources, support and fellowship to all gamers who may feel like they’re alone in their love of do-it-yourself, traditional, games.

Which games are you talking about, exactly?

Here’s a non-exhaustive starting point:

Original D&D, Holmes (Blue Book) Basic D&D, AD&D 1st Edition, Classic Traveller, Tunnels & Trolls, Harn, Original Runequest, Chaosium’s Basic Roleplaying, Rolemaster, Holmes/Moldvay/Mentzer Basic D&D,  Bushido, Star Frontiers, Boot Hill, Gamma World, Chill, Empire of the Petal Throne, Arduin, The Fantasy Trip, Marvel Superheroes, Original Champions, Call of Cthuhlu, Chivalry & Sorcery, Mechwarrior 1st Edition, Original Hackmaster, Metamorphosis Alpha, Top Secret, and The Morrow Project

We also play and support modern “retroclones” or “simulacra” of these games, such as:

OSRIC, BFRPG, Castles & Crusades, Labyrinth Lord, Mutant Future, Swords & Wizardry, Spellcraft & Swordplay, GORE, Searchers of the Unknown (along with all its derivations!), DUNGEON SQUAD!, and X-plorers

In a chronological sense, we support games mostly released in the 1970s and earlier 1980s (and the modern games that directly simulate/clone/emulate them). When we get to games in the 1990s, such as AD&D 2nd edition, things get blurred and murky. However, WE’RE NOT THE OLD SCHOOL POLICE—while we might not play or actively support the 1990s/2e and later games, if you want to play them, by all means, go have fun! It’s just not our particular sweet spot.

What exactly is an “original” game?

It’s a game that is no longer printed or actively updated, like the original 1974 version of Dungeons & Dragons, Gamma World, Arduin or Boot Hill. For those games still in print, it’s usually the “first” version of the game.
Hey! Not all those games you listed above are out-of-print!
We support a lot of games. Some games are still in print today without having really changed or abandoned their old-school roots! For example: Call of Cthulhu, or Tunnels & Trolls. We also support the newer “retroclones” or “simulacra” games that directly clone/emulate/imitate the original, out-of-print games.

A Mission, you say??

Posted in Uncategorized by akesher on January 13, 2010

Hey, all.

Sorry I’m a bit tardy getting this up, but here’s the shiny new TARGA Mission Statement mentioned by Mike in a recent post:


We’re inspired by a “do-it-yourself” style of play rooted in the earliest years of the hobby.


We play our games in worlds of wonder filled with imaginary characters.


We share our games with all comers using original, out-of-print rules, as well as their more modern “retroclones” or “simulacra”.


We do this by providing and organizing a network of resources, ideas, and contacts for all those interested in  playing  adventure roleplaying games with a “traditional” mindset.

We certainly don’t expect to please everybody with this particular focus, but at least we can now say we’re focused! After much discussion, it became clear that what we really wanted to promote was reaching out to those who’ve had little or no exposure to either these games or this particular style of play. Therefore our purpose is to provide resources both for those who’ve discovered something new and aren’t sure where to start, as well as those who’d like (or be willing to) get newbies into their already existing Old School games.

We’ve also created a rather large (and sure to grow) FAQ, soon to be up on the wiki and the website, if not this blog.

Questions? Comments?

Bring ’em on! 🙂


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Old School News from December

Posted in Uncategorized by Michael "Chgowiz" on December 29, 2009

(The majority of this news is taken from my Examiner.com RPG news roundups – if I’ve missed something, please put it in the comments and I’ll make sure it gets added in an edit/update to this post.)

There was a lot of cool, exciting news in the Old School RPG world this December – as 2009 winds down, the OSR is going out with a bang.

At the end of November, LotFP Publishing released their new module, The Grinding Gears, to many good reviews. Created for just about any original/old school game, Grinding Gears is a classic “challenge the player’s wits” module.

December started with news of an amazing supplement to Swords & Wizardry being released. Setting material from a personal 30 year campaign was published: The Majestic Wilderlands by Rob Conley. What is unique about this setting is its status as a licensee of the old Judges Guild Wilderlands of High Fantasy property. Created for the Swords & Wizardry OD&D retroclone, this source material is perfect for old school and OOP D&D use.

Robert Kuntz of Pied Piper Publishing announced that he is releasing a color module of the first 3 levels of the “Castle El Raja Key.” This dungeon setting was used, according to Robert, to play-test the original D&D and had a hand in spawning the famous Greyhawk campaign and original D&D Greyhawk supplement. This is a very interesting development, given this year’s brouhaha regarding Troll Lord Games, Gail Gygax and the “Castle Zagyg” series which was cancelled. This isn’t the last time we’ll hear PPP making announcements in December.

The imaginative standard-bearer of all things “pre-1990”, Fight On! magazine, has released their 8th issue. It’s jam packed with material for games like “Empire of the Petal Throne” as well as another adventure from Gabor Lux and lots of things old school and wildly imaginative.

Joseph Bloch over at the blog Greyhawk Grognard released another installment of his megadungeon “Castle of the Mad Archmage”. Joseph’s CotMA has been an underground hit with the Greyhawk fans and definitely worth a look for an example of excellent 1979 D&D play.

Noble Knight Games has earned a solid reputation for quality customer service in providing new and out-of-print games. They were very busy right before Christmas by announcing that they’ve become the exclusive distributors of Pied Piper Publishing games and materials. They’ve also started distributing the ENnie award winning Swords & Wizardry D&D retroclone game, Knockspell Magazine and other Mythmere Games products produced by Black Blade Publishing.

If John Carter of Mars or the pulp “Swords & Planets” type of adventures gets you fired up, the new supplement written for Swords & Wizardry might interest you. Savage Swords of Athanor mixes pulp science fiction with fantasy to give you a whole new set of adventures and worlds to explore.

Randall at the blog Retroroleplaying.com has been offering contests and giveaways in exchange for contributions to help him with a set of devastating medical bills that his family has incurred this year. He recently gave away a set of original Dungeons and Dragons books and supplements to a private donor. He received word that this donor auctioned off those books in a “20th Century Rarities” charity auction for EIGHT THOUSAND DOLLARS! That’s an amazing amount of money for the LBBs.

Here’s to a wonderful 2010 for the OSR and traditional gaming!