Gah! Stupid holidays. Completely forgot that Brent Newhall had hooked me up with a copy of his Old School Renaissance Handbook. Several weeks ago I was complaining that it was hard to research OSR games on their gameplay merits, right? Like, literally everything online related to OSR and its products is framed ideologically. I suppose one could argue that since retrocloning is so part-and-parcel to the whole OSR thing that there’s really no point in talking about how the rules shape gameplay.
So, anyway. Brent’s book is exactly the reference I was hoping for when I went looking for more clear-eyed discussion of just what’s in these games. He covers 28 different titles, and shows what a suite of five distinct class fantasy adventure characters (wizard, ranger, etc.) might look like statted out under each system. There are also a bunch of reviews with designers, also very cool.
As ideologically neutral as I think Brent is, his own indie-slash-inclusive-friendliness still sneaks in. The big one is that, at least in my own understanding, one of the common hallmarks of whether something “is” OSR or not is interoperability. Like, there are absolutely minimal adjustments needed to take a character out of ACKS and drop it into DCC, or whatever. I say this as an outsider and I’m sure there are factions who will dismiss this hallmark. Cool, fine. But including stuff like Dungeon World felt weird. I get that, yeah, probably you could stat a Labyrinth Lord character up as a Dungeon World character, but is that really “interoperable?” Same with Paolo Greco’s Into the Odd. I … guess it shares some play style similarities?
Basically I’m saying you can’t read the OSR Handbook and get a meaningful definition of OSR itself. It’s like pornography in that I guess you have to see it to know it, or something.
So, anyway. If you’re not an OSR grognard, I think this is actually just the thing you were looking for.