Principia Apocrypha: Principles of Old School RPGs, or, A New OSR Primer

Principia Apocrypha is a new, free Primer for OSR and other Old School Style RPG Gaming in the form of a collection of Apocalypse World-style GM (and player) Principles with text from Ben MiltonSteven Lumpkin, and David Perry (myself).

Principia Apocrypha, a New OSR Primer

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Further Reading & Recommendations

My curated selections for next steps if Principia Apocrypha is your introduction to the Old School Style Play, as of September 2018.

Other Old School Primers

Examples, Examinations, & Extollations of Old School Style Play

In increasing order of time investment:
  • Why I Like OSR – Emmy Allen explains what she values from this style of play and the culture surrounding it.
  • On Romantic Fantasy and OSR D&D – Joseph Manola on how old school D&D favors communication over violence as a default to problem solving.
  • Thursdays in Thracia – Series of session reports and thoughts on running B/X D&D from a GM new to old school play.
  • Old School Adventures – Streamed Actual Play video series of B/X D&D run by Adam Koebel, co-designer of Dungeon World and CHA 18 GM.

Some Games/Rulesets For Your Consideration

Retroclones & Refinements of B/X D&D

B/X is arguably but widely revered as the edition of the Original Fantasy Roleplaying Game best suited for old school play. It consists of two books originally published in 1981: Tom Moldvay's Basic D&D and Dave Cook's Expert D&D. Other editions and flavors of D&D are available. 
  • Old School Essentials (Free text-only version) from Gavin Norman – Hewing very closely to the original rules, OSE combines and reorganizes B/X into more easily usable chunks, clarifies  ambiguities, and builds in the option for the simpler Ascending style Armor Class.
  • Labyrinth Lord (Free no-art version) – The first and still perfectly respectable retroclone of B/X.
  • Lamentations of the Flame Princess – Features some simplifications and alternate mechanics, widely considered great improvements on B/X, also oriented to more gritty, low-fantasy setting assumptions. [I am conflicted on supporting LotFP as a publisher, so this link now goes to the free version of the rules]
  • Quintessential BX – Built on OSE's Core Rules, with some tweaks from myself and taken from LotFP, and some favorite common house rules.
  • 5E D&D – It isn't the worst edition for old school play, certainly the best since 2E, and many versions of "O5R" hacks can be found, but I have not dug into them. Here's a start.

Newer, Lightweight Rulesets

Many folks consider OD&D and B/X to already be rules-light (usually compared to 1st/2nd edition Advanced D&D), but over the years, many rulesets have popped up that pare it down even further to emphasize core old school principles. Here are a few I recommend for newcomers:
  • The Black Hack (Free web version) from David Black – A popular modernized version of OD&D. An expanded second edition is in the works.
  • Into the Odd (Free edition) from Chris McDowall – Tight rules for delving in steampunky dungeons. Three attributes, no to-hit rolls; in combat everyone just deals their damage. That will teach you to charge in headlong.
  • Maze Rats from Ben Milton – Simple and quick, takes many cues from Into the Odd. The source of much of Principia Apocrypha, and host to an incredible collection of random tables. Roll on'em er'y day.
  • Knave from Ben Milton – Hot off the presses as of this writing, a cutting-edge, feather-light, but highly old-school compatible ruleset. Might be my next choice for running a game.

More Narrative-Style Rulesets

These are less concretely Old School, but evoke and/or permit aspects of it in their design and play. Beware of folks telling you that these rulesets are antithetical to old school style play – you have permission from both me and their designers to do whatever you want with them. All are Powered by the Apocalypse-ish. Presented in order of increasing rules-weight:
  • World of Dungeons (free) from John Harper – Very lightweight version of Dungeon World. No guidance on running, so plan on assimilating both DW and Principia Apocrypha.
  • Dungeon Rats – My mostly-finished hybrid of Maze Rats and World of Dungeons aiming for greater compatibility with old school material. Ditto above.
  • Vagabonds of Dyfed from Ben Dutter – Designed with the goals of combining PbtA and old school sensibilities, and compatibility with old school material.
  • Freebooters on the Frontier from Jason Lutes – A hack of Dungeon World for a more old school feel; a second edition is the works.

Outstanding Introductory Old School Adventures

Modern & Recent

Timeless Classics

  • The Keep on the Borderlands – Boxed with Basic D&D, many old school gamers cut their teeth on this open, sandbox-style dungeon of competing factions.
  • Caverns of Thracia – Exemplar of megadungeons, designed by Jennell Jaquays.