When D&D 3rd Edition came out a lot of people complained it would NEVER take the place of AD&D 2nd Ed. Of course soon after we had companies (Necromancer Games, Sword and Sorcery Studios) that tried to capitalize on using the new rules but emulating the feel of older (read 1st Edition) games. They were in my opinion fairly successful at this. One of the reasons they could do this was the Open Gaming License. The OGL allowed other companies/people to create and publish works based on the core of the new D&D 3rd Edition game to make their own games. The OGL and the d20 license was a revolution really in gaming.
Now fast forward 9 years. We have 4e (4th Edtion D&D) out now and it's GSL is a bit different (and I think in some good ways), but the main thing it has seemed to do is re-vitalize the "retro gaming" market. People take the SRD (the core of the older 3/3.5 rules) and use them to emulate an older game. The first one I was aware of was OSRIC, or Old School Reference & Index Compilation. OSRIC was clever in that it used the newer rules and made some assumptions to make something that seems more like the 1st Edition rules. It has met with some success in that you can find OSRIC compatible products in stores, Lulu and DriveThruRPG. I was left wondering why anyone would want to play an older game, but I have since seen the appeal. One of the biggest one was Castles & Crusades that was still closer to 3e, but felt like 1st ed. Troll Lords publishes it and up till recently even published material from the Grand Master DM himself Gary Gygax. One I suppose could also count HackMaster, but that was developed under a different license. While it's genesis is different it's popularity I think is part of the same phenomena.
The Retro-Clone Movement / "Old School Renaissance"
When is something a fad and when is it a movement?
Well in this case I am going with movement. I know a lot of players that looked at D&D 4e and said No Way! (to be fair I knew people that said that about 3e and 2e too when they came out). But not only are there a lot people saying this, there are a lot of products. OSRIC and C&C I mentioned (though OSRIC in reality is not a "game" per se, but a guide for making products that are "compatible with" another game, at least originally). Another one that make me really happy to own is Labyrinth Lord, a clone of the old Basic/Expert sets of the early 80's. The Erol Otis covers, not the "newer ones". ;) Labyrinth Lord is just fun to read and I could totally see anyone using it to teach the basics of D&D to a child. Sure there some things that many modern players might consider odd (Elves are a CLASS? And only can go to 10th level?) but it was what I learned on so to me it feels like finding a long lost friend. Basic Fantasy also goes after this realm but I am not as familiar with it as I am with LL. It looks really cool though, it seems more "updated" than does LL, but I'd have to read it in detail.
Another REALLY great one is Spellcraft & Swordplay. This one is less of a retro clone and more of an attempt to rebuild the classic game from the same materials. Sorta like putting all the amino acids in a jar and hitting them with electrical charges to create life. In this case life was remade and it looks the same…almost. Or in the words of the creator Jason Vey, "Does for OD&D and Chainmail what Castles & Crusades does for AD&D." I think that works well. S&S is a great game and is really fun. LL does what it does and I like it, but I have done it before. S&S does something different and in a really neat way. Like C&C, S&S attempts to do something old, with something new and old, but ends up new. Makes sense? Maybe not. Also in the field of OD&D inspired games is Swords & Wizardry. Though like some of the others it less of a true retro-clone and more of a modern retelling of one.
Of course I NEED one of these: http://elflairgames.proboards.com/index.cgi?action=display&board=announcements&thread=49&page=1
Now comparing these games to each other is rather unfair. Each draws upon the same source material, each is re-made in the eyes of their respective authors and developers as the way they like to do things, and each one in the end does what it sets out to do. Though it is fair to compare them to the D&D they were modeled from or took their inspiration from.
The question that remains is, why would someone play an "old" game when a newer game is available or better yet why play a clone when the original game can be had?
Well a lot goes with personal taste. I felt OD&D was nigh unplayable, but Spellcraft & Swordplay is a totally playable game. AD&D is great, but OSRIC and C&C allow me to use all the 3.x books I have too. And don't dismiss the nostalgia factor. I still have my Basic and Expert books and my copy of the Rules Compendium, but picking up LL is just fun. It's something "old" where I still get that feel of discovery. One day I will run a "Basic" D&D game using all my Basic and Expert rules, RC, LL and Basic Fantasy and I'll take my sons to the Keep on the Borderlands where it all started for me. "Sons, 30 years ago your father and a group of dedicated 8th graders cleaned out these caves and made the land peaceful. But I hear the caves are active again and orcs have been seen in Borderlands killing all who pass. It's time I gave you my sword…"
Here are some links
OSRIC, rules for emulating 1st Ed AD&D, http://www.knights-n-knaves.com/osric/
Labyrinth Lord, a B/X retro clone, http://www.goblinoidgames.com/labyrinthlord.htm
Basic Fantasy, a BECMI emulation, http://www.basicfantasy.org/
Swords & Wizardry, OD&D inspired, http://www.swordsandwizardry.com/
Grognardia Blog, http://grognardia.blogspot.com/
TARGA, the Traditional Adventure Roleplaying Game Association, http://traditionalgaming.wordpress.com/
Matthew J. Finch's (Mythmere) A Quick Primer for Old School Gaming, http://www.lulu.com/content/3019374
New post on RPG Net that appeared while I was typing this, http://forum.rpg.net/showthread.php?t=445538