Top ten video games that emulate Old School D&D (2024)

Top ten video games that emulate Old School D&D (1)

I have often found it difficult to describe classical or old-school tabletop play to modern players. There are significant differences between modern and old school D&D that require, as Matt Finch says, “fundamental modern gaming concept(s) need(ing) to be flipped on their head.”

Video games are commonly used as “cultural touchstones” for tabletop role-playing games when making a pitch to your table. That makes sense after all, video games inherited their design from tabletop. The conversation is overwhelmingly dominated by one, single statement though:

It's like Dark Souls.”

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This is not an entirely wrong statement, but it's also created a barrier for entry for people to try OSR games and really understand them.

Dark Souls is:

  • Single player

  • The community expectation for Dark Souls is to repeatedly die as you gain player skill

  • Heavily combat oriented

In these ways Dark Souls significantly departs from OSR game-play, or at the very least fails to express it's depth, especially it's lack of focus on larger groups of 3-12 people. As I argue in my article “The Myth of OSR lethality”, while OSR games are much more lethal than the modern D&D RPG, there's no need to lose characters or an expectation that you will die. You can reliably survive in most classic D&D games if you make smart choices. Additionally, while combat is a central feature of classic D&D, you can also avoid it all together, and there are incentives to do so.

What results from the constant message of “It's just like Dark Souls” is a misconception of Old School games that they are a death fetish. It's an unfortunate and unfair reputation.

(Note, that may also just be an unfair impression of Dark Souls and here's an awesome blog article that argues the opposite: Darks Souls IS the OSR: )

As I often point out, we held a 14 month long Old School Essentials campaign and no one died until month 13. In our Swords & Wizardry campaign we average perhaps 1 death every 3-4 months of consistent, weekly game-play that includes about 6 players. Certainly more than modern D&D, but we also have characters who have lasted for years. Some OSR games are meat grinders (Mork Borg, DCC funnels) and that can be fun. Some groups are more lethal than others, but it's proven a barrier to entry for people who might like everything else the OSR has to offer.

For that reason, I've asked multiple online OSR communities for help devising a list of those video games that really capture the “feel” or “vibe” of playing a pencil and paper adventure game. My hope is this list will act as a tool for new players to see if they might be interested in the OSR, but also as a list of diversions for those already experiencing the joy of Classical D&D.

Before we begin, some disclaimers.

This is just my opinion and the opinion of others I have gathered. I'm not telling you how to play your game or what video games to play.

You may find you disagree with some of what I consider Old School, what is included or what has been left out, and in what order I have decided they approach the OSR game play experience in. I consider this a good thing. Feel free to share your disagreements and alternative suggestions in the comments.

The categories of games and their order of inclusion is based on my opinion of what most closely approaches the classical D&D pencil and paper tabletop experience not what makes the best video game.

I'm starting with a list of genres or categories of video games to explore and some brief examples, including areas where they are different from OSR game-play and areas where they are similar, in order of the top 5 genres from least similar to most.

After that I'll provide my top ten video games suggested by the OSR online community (and some of my own).

By genre or category:

Action RPGs

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Examples: Diablo (and it's sequels and clones), Torchlight, Path of Exile, Grim Dawn, Dungeon Siege, Lost Ark, Bard's Tale, Black Dragon.

Actions RPGs have some important things in common with old school D&D, but their core game-play experience proves in my opinion to be too different to really feel like playing a classic pencil and paper game.


ARPGs have lots of item and resource management, an open ended approach to encounters (adventures usually take place in locations that are open ended or dungeons), no “plot” that puts narration before experiences that emerge through game play (at least in older ARPGs), and it can be deadly when making poor choices.


ARPGs differ significantly from an OSR pencil and paper experience because they have a heavy focus on combat, they focus on a single character, the character is immensely powerful and able to take on waves or hordes of enemies, there is a lot of emphasis on “building” your character and optimizing their features and systems to be most effective and the genre is usually high fantasy and “epic” or over-the-top.

Classic, Old School and Retro-MMOs

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Examples: Classic World of Warcraft, Star Wars Galaxies, Dark Age of Camelot, Old School Runescape, Everquest 1, Ultima Online, Ember's Adrift, Conan: Exiles.


It could be argued that Classic or Old School Massively Multiplayer Online RPG's also emulate classic D&D. For those who like MMOs but who have sought out the classic versions such as Classic WOW and OSRS, you likely have some things in common with those that have likewise sought out the classic versions of tabletop games for similar reasons.

Classic MMOs emphasize a big, open world to explore. They aren't condescending, it's up to the players to seek their own adventure and find what interests them in the world. The story is what happens not what's told to you. The game is challenging and it's immensely rewarding to work with your friend to overcome monsters and obstacles that far outclass a single character.

MMOs also have persistent game elements in a social environment, something that the oldest version of D&D did and many classical gamers do today with tables of dozens of adventurers that play at different times on a unified calendar that passes 1:1 with the real world. The world may act regardless of player success or failure the way meta-plots worked in original Runescape, Star Wars Galaxies and The Matrix Online. Classic D&D players also work towards eventually having estate, and making their mark on the world, in the same way that attaining special armor, mounts and titles as well as housing in Classic MMOs is a huge achievement. Getting a magic sword in classic D&D is a big deal.


Classic MMOs, even incredibly open ended ones like Star Wars galaxies, ultimately suffer from having limitations that pencil and paper games don't have. Worst of all, MMOs depend on a host and usually a corporation who can change your game and progress at any time, or in the case of many abandoned classic MMOs they depend on private servers that can get shut down by the corporations that no longer support them. The glory of pencil and paper games is that the table is the authority, not corporations who need to make a profit off keeping you invested in the next content treadmill or expansion. Someone with the Basic Set of D&D or the 1e DMG for AD&D, some dice, pencil and paper have all they need for decades of play.


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First person examples: The Wizardry series 1-8, Ultima: Stygian Abyss, King's Field series, Gold Box D&D Series, Thief, Dragon Wars, Legend of Grimlock, Akalabeth: World of Doom.

Top down or Isometric examples: The Ultima series, Baldurs Gate and all subsequent Infinity Engine games, Moonring, Undertale, Dark Heart of Uukrul, The Magic Candle, Isle of Gelnor, Phantasie 1, Final Fantasy 1, Dragon Warrior, Stone Soup, Zorbus.


CRPGs or “Classic RPGs” are in many ways the same mechanically to original and classic D&D. Those that like CRPGs, especially if they prefer them to AAA RPGs or action titles, are almost certainly bound to feel the same way about classic D&D if they enjoy tabletop pencil and paper adventure games. Many of them are “one for one” the same to the classic tabletop game in terms of the game's math and resolution mechanics, or barely different.


The huge downside to many CRPGs are the restrictions on player choices and a tendency to focus on hack-and-slash game-play as well as closed exploration matrices (like dungeons). Additionally like most video games, the player is unlikely to be cooperating (or arguing) with other, real life people and in many the game focuses on a single character.

Fantasy Simulation and management games

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Example: Kenshi, Factorio, Caves of Qud, Dwarf Fortress, Rimworld, Mount and Blade: Bannerlord, Spore.


It's been my experience that players that enjoy games like the examples listed above almost always seem to be the players that enjoy OSR tabletop games. My hypothesis is this is because these are the kinds of players that don't like walls and don't want to be led by the nose by the game. They want to make the game theirs, have curious and unexpected things happen, and would rather have a world of honest restraints that they can engage with. People who play fantasy simulations want to be surprised by and challenged by the world, and it's likely that for that reason they'll enjoy classic pencil and paper RPGs.

A story naturally emerges through the combination of unexpected elements, but it's one you want to tell your friends about, not one that is narrated to you as if it is a movie.


As picaresque as old school RPG players are accused of being, and cruel toward their little imaginary people, fantasy simulation games usually involve an even greater distance between the player and the characters, like a “god's eye view.” Fantasy simulators often involve whole societies or groups, which is a fundamental departure from the early intention of the fantasy adventure game which revolutionized the pre-existing tabletop simulation and wargame hobbies by zooming into individual heroes.

Likewise, while the results that can come out of inputs into fantasy simulators can be vast, they are still bound by a closed system with a limited number of options, while pencil and paper adventurers can hypothetically attempt anything.

At least once!

Rogue Likes

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Examples: Nethack, Castelvanias and their clones, Rogue, Telengard, Noita, Angband, Ancient Domains of Mystery.

Similarities: Rogue likes are extremely similar to a tabletop Old school game in that there is a tremendous focus on exploration and survival in a deadly environment. The feeling of tension a player has in a Rogue-like dungeon as the environment constantly threatens them and even hunts them down while they try to evade and outsmart it in order to gain treasure and power is something few video games can express that feels exactly like being in a game of Basic and Expert D&D or Original D&D. Really good Rogue-likes will include additional game-play phases such as traveling through a wilderness from adventure sites as well as game-play elements in a sanctuary.

Differences: Rogue-likes differ from OSR games often in their lack of persistent game-play, especially those rogue-like games that end the game after death or after a certain number of deaths. In a classic D&D game death is no hindrance to the campaign, at least not 1 or 2 of the characters. The campaign keeps going. Additionally, game-play is reduced in most Rogeulikes to be just exploration and combat, and like most video games it lacks the open system which enables an infinity of choices that can be attempted.

Open world sandbox fantasy exploration games (with co-op!)

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Examples: Gedonia, Valheim, Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Elden Ring, Outward, Minecraft, No Man's Sky, Necesse, Book of Travels.


This is actually the category of game that most closely resembles what I think is the feel of OSR games or perhaps the experience I seek as a player and Referee. Games like “Elden Ring”, “Zelda: Breath of the Wild”, “Valheim”, “Minecraft” and most especially “Outward.” Some classic and retro MMOs are also like this like “Ember's Adrift” and the early days of “New World.”

Sandbox exploration games feel to me as if the world doesn't care if I'm there or not. The world feels big, there are mysteries and challenges. The story is what naturally emerges from my experiences, it isn't contrived or given via forced cut-scenes.

Differences: “A mile wide, and an inch deep.” For the average person they cannot modify the mechanics and code of even an incredibly rich physics model in a huge fantasy sandbox to finally emulate the infinite choices in reality. In a way, pencil and paper adventure games ultimately fulfill the promise of what many look for in games like Minecraft and Valheim. At any point the experience of the Referee, the ideas of the players and the permeability of the open game system can allow for choices to be made, and that's something that no video game, no matter how close, can ever provide. The infinity of human imagination.

Top ten games:

10. Pools of Radiance – Official Advanced Dungeons and Dragons computer game (1988)

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Pools of Radiance and it's subsequent titles sometimes called “Gold Box” CRPG games are an excellent way to really experience the OSR directly with a few caveats.

First of all, the game itself was intended to be a direct, 1:1 simulation of the Advanced Dungeons and Dragons rule-set into a computer video game. In a lot of ways it succeeds. In order to play the game, you'll need to understand things like your character's basic to hit or THACO, descending armor class, hit points and class specialties. You'll have to establish an order of march and synergize class features in dungeon combat using the AD&D combat procedures to defeat monsters. In dungeon crawling you'll have to weigh the risks and make choices about investigating certain areas in an old school tabletop “push your luck” fashion to explore and get treasure.

The Gold Box games were also legendary in that, to really play them well, you needed to have actual grid paper in front of you mapping the dungeon. This is very close to a skill set that a video game can provide that can be ported directly into the OSR game-play experience.

There are several things that hold these direct ports of classic D&D rules back from simulating OSR game-play. First of all, like most video games, doing it alone just doesn't express the game-play experience and video gamers often suffer from this when they need to learn to work as a team with other people in tabletop. It's a skill set, and one that solo video games won't provide.

Secondly, I've played some of the Gold Box games but been told there are exploits and deviations from the rules of AD&D. AD&D itself is not merely a “dungeon crawler”, and to reduce AD&D to dungeon crawling is to take a complete, fantasy simulation toolkit and take away most of what makes it so amazing. I've heard it said of AD&D that it is “greater than the sum of it's parts” and the Gold Box video games are only part of the experience.

Lastly, also like most video games, the synthetic walls and lack of an “open system” where players can attempt most things is simply not like pencil and paper RPGs at all, and you can really feel that in the Gold Box games which only offer continuous walls, floors and ceilings as far as you can explore, and only several ways to interact with the world, and only a few options to dialogue with NPCs. You really have to stretch your imagination a lot to be able to be immersed in the same way you could if you were at a tabletop with other Players and Referees.

The Gold Box AD&D games were recently released on platforms like GOG and Steam.

9. Ultima Online (1997)

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Ultima Online is one of the first true “Massively Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Games”, both a continuation of the Ultima fantasy RPG series (previously mentioned as solid contenders for the experience of OSR game-play) and with persistent, simulated world, online elements via the internet.

Much like the CRPG and Fantasy Sandbox categories, many other games could easily fill this slot. Certainly, Classic World of Warcraft would be easier for a modern gamer to get into, and in my opinion it does a good job of simulating a classic OSR experience from tabletop, but Ultima Online has a few features that make it more akin to a classic pencil and paper game.

First, like all MMOs that would come after it, it has persistence, meaning that your progress in the game will continue even when you leave and can be seen by others. In some ways, the actions you take in the world affect the world itself and you can make an impact on what happens to other players. Many people who first tried D&D will note that persistent game elements such as levels were what made the game revolutionary for them. This is true of all MMOs, but the designers of Ultima Online sought for the game world to be a fantasy simulation, even going so far to create realistic models of how animals in the wild would reproduce and populate (though they would encounter the reason why such fantasy simulations need to be a game first when the local wildlife were over run and exterminated by murder hoboing players.)

Ultima Online also worked as a social and economic experiment, and at points the developers would try to allow players to simply interact with the world and discover the results of their actions without interference. This would change over time, but the ability to simply interact with the world in this way is very close to what an OSR game is like.

Lastly, you can still play Ultima Online today and it hosts one of the most vibrant role-playing communities in MMOs. By role-playing I mean taking on the roles of characters and playing them out honestly, not just play acting or creating narratives. For that reason, a player today can experience something pretty close to an old school pencil and paper game in Ultima Online, unlike other MMOs that have leaned away from simulation and toward the game treadmill.

Ultimate Online is still active after approaching 30 years soon and available for free online!

8. Darkest Dungeon

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Darkest Dungeon bills itself as a rogue-like, but it works similar to games like “Final Fantasy” in that you have a 2d platform array of characters that work together against an opposing force. You have to manage their sanity, equipment and talents to defeat horrors and explore a Lovecraftian themed Gothic estate.

Apart from it's Lovecraftian Horror and Sword and Sorcery influences which more strongly resemble classic D&D's edge and attitude than the modern game, Darkest Dungeon has a lot mechanically in common with classic D&D. First, you have a team of characters which must synergize their efforts in order to overcome challenges that would be more than a match for any single one of them. Item and resource management is important, and it takes a thoughtful and clever approach to conflict in order to win. Darkest Dungeon won't tell you that you are a hero, it won't make you a hero, you either are one, or you aren't.

The horror themes also do it some favors to resemble an OSR tabletop experience, and the trips back to a sanctuary to role-play, interact with NPCs and re-equip.

7. Baldur's Gate 1

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In Baldur's Gate you take on the role of a single character you design but directly command a group of other characters top down or “isometric” to a hand-painted map in set locations. Encounters will happen randomly, some handcrafted others random but relative to what is happening in the world. Like all “Infinity Engine” games that would follow it, the dialogue and quest trees are mind blowing in a seemingly infinite number of branches of options based on choices, making it feel more like a tabletop RPG than almost anything that has come before or since.

Borrowing from the CRPG list the Isometric masterpiece that is Baldur's Gate 1 is an easy shoe-in as a contender for replicating the experience of B/X or Original D&D away from the table because it's game mechanics are directly 2nd Edition Advanced Dungeons and Dragons. While 2e is often the red headed step child of the OSR and has some significant cultural and mechanical differences from 1e, B/X/BECMI or OD&D, it is still the same game in essence with THACO, encumbrance, save vs. dragon's breath and thief skills, etc.

In a lot of ways, if you have never played classic D&D, Baldur's Gate 1 will serve well to train the solo player. This could be said of many of the other CRPGs certainly mentioned above, but Baldur's Gate 1 is about the right point to experience OSR game-play because of it's open ended sandbox, non-linear storytelling and game-play loop of leaving a sanctuary, fighting or evading wilderness random encounters and hack and slashing your way through a dungeon and taking their stuff back to sell it and resurrect your dead buddy at the temple. It's sequel would master the narration and storytelling 2e sought to achieve and so would depart some from this formula, and later entries like Icewind Dale would prove more linear and gamist.

I remember playing Baldur's Gate 1 and adventuring at a castle with my party. I had cleared most of one floor and there was a door leading into a temple area that had been ruined. Within sat a troll, and there I learned something about a classic D&D monster, it regenerates! The thing wiped the floor with my party a couple of times and I had to reload (Obviously a major departure from the OSR experience obviously, the ability to go back and retry things.)

I remember enjoying sitting for about an hour of game-play straight as I prepared my marching order, who would strike first and with what weapon, where the spell-casters would be and their stack of spells. I prepared the party with spells like “bless” and charged in after long preparation. In the back my spell-casters started with things like “sanctuary” and we tried “dispel magic” etc. which didn't work against the troll, but I didn't know how to defeat it at the time. The thieves stood well back and then angled for an attempt at a back-stab.

The fighters held their ground long enough to receive healing spells and then I cycled between magic missile and other offensive spells before finally trying some fire arrows. It didn't regenerate! After a long fought battle the thing lay dead on the temple floor and many of my adventurers only had several hit points. Warily, I took what treasure I could and made the trek through the wilderness hoping I wouldn't have a bandit ambush to get back to a nearby town for healing and the sale of treasure.

Experiences like that really feel like the OSR, and the mechanics are very close to the real thing.

6. Kenshi

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“You are not the chosen one. You are not great and powerful. You don't have more 'hit points' than everyone else. You are not the centre of the universe, you are not special. Unless you work for it.”

The website's description of Kenshi almost sounds like an OSR tabletop game! It also bills itself as an open world experience with no pre-set plot where you can choose to become whatever you want. “ is free-roaming and open: enjoy the freedom and potential to do whatever you want.”

Kenshi is something very difficult to explain, and it shares this inexplicable quality with a good OSR game. A good OSR game will consist of some “truths about the world” which might include procedures and random tables. When this sauce is mixed with player's that have a bent toward “shenanigans” what results are some truly bizarre, and sometimes hilarious outcomes.

I have always said that classic D&D is “pro shenanigans.” Often times modern D&D suffered under the weight of heroes with great abilities. Like it or not, 'shenanigans' begin to make less and less sense when you are the one who can bring salvation to a world that needs heroes. Kenshi doesn't offer you that unless you seize it. Even then, what compromises will you make to get there?

Honorable mention to “Caves of Qud” which I had wanted to include, but found that I was really including it for the same reason I was going to mention Kenshi. As mentioned above a close medieval fantasy game to this weird-fiction might be “Mount and Blade 2: Bannerlord” which I'd also highly recommend.

5. Valheim

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You are a Viking who has been slain in battle and carried into the afterlife of the tenth world. Here is a wild, open wilderness of forgotten and lost civilizations, strange monsters, magical powers and perhaps most importantly, fellow adventuring vikings who must strap on axes, spears, shields and bows and make plans to cross deadly forests to sites of adventure for treasure.

Valheim is one of the typical “survival” games common in indie video games today. Survival games that have an emphasis on co-op multiplayer with lower fantasy, high lethality/lower character power and exploration are strong contenders for conveying the OSR tabletop game experience.

For reasons similar to my #1 choice, Valheim delivers a sense of danger that requires a thoughtful approach, or the acceptance of glorious death if rushing headlong against otherworldly monsters and into infested cairns. Add to that a grand open world to explore and you get really close to what an OSR game feels like when you play it with other people.

I remember building boats with my friends so that we could set upon a sea journey to a faraway turtle isle (an actual turtle) to gather components for powerful armor, and along the way we were attacked by a powerful sea serpent and barely survived, then after crashing due to a storm on a faraway shore we encountered a bizarre merchant who had wares we could not yet afford and would need to make plans in the future to obtain. None of that was pre-scripted by the game, it just arose from our choices in the world.

Or when I adventured with my wife and we traveled along the coast gathering flint while fighting off monsters, darkness fell and we couldn't make it back. As I was consumed by the undead she climbed to the top of a crumbling, ancient stone tower to await the sunrise to take what goods she could from the body of her fallen husband and hoped to make it back to our sanctuary alive.

These are just like OSR encounters and game-play experiences, and if you like Old School tabletop I highly recommend Valheim!

4. Elder Scrolls: Daggerfall

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Daggerfall is one of the greatest RPG video games of all time, and to this day hosts one of the largest game worlds ever created, still dwarfing it's later sequels in the “Elder Scrolls” series. It accomplishes this by procedurally generating the connective tissue between adventure sites and some of the game world elements, but still has a mind-bending amount of hand crafted content and quests. In Daggerfall you are sent by the Emperor of Tamriel to the lands of Daggerfall to...well who knows or cares really?

It's actually a simulated fantasy world where if you get in trouble at the local tavern you get a court date and maybe a jail sentence. You can immerse yourself trying to get coin between towns by selling your sword to the local wench who has a disagreement with one of the land owners, or perhaps she has a pet bear and needs you to take it for a walk for a week while she travels.

I could easily have included anything from the CRPG that's first person here, but in my opinion Daggerfall tops the list because of it's open ended nature and freedom from strict procedures and rules. It achieves being a fantasy world simulation for you to do whatever you want.

There is a story you can follow and quests, and the world will continue on and change if the player never intervenes. Just as easily you can become a roof top hopping catpurse, or a sworn Holy Knight of one of multiple knightly orders, or you can take out a several million Septim loan from a bank and disappear with the money to purchase a giant pirate ship and hire a crew to sail to faraway lands.

Daggerfall, especially with recent mods, allows the player to simply walk in a direction and find adventure but with a significant difference from future Elder Scrolls titles, the world doesn't revolve around the player, it's just there. Master it, fall to it, ignore it. The world doesn't try to make you out to be the messiah or guide you back to curated content (except that quest lines actually expire as time passes). Elder Scrolls and other modern fantasy RPGs have strayed farther and farther from this in ways similar to the modern tabletop game. Nowadays following a stray dog in a modern Elder Scrolls title will see you contending face to face with a god instead of more gritty, sword and sorcery fare.

With recent quality of life mods and overhauls like Daggerfall Unity, this ancient classic RPG is seeing new players discover it's seemingly endless world for the first time. Daggerfall could easily sit at #1 on this list because it is perhaps the master of video games that extol player agency. It only doesn't because it misses the crucial pillar of cooperating with other players, a major departure from the OSR experience.

3. Grim Quest

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You are a mercenary from the crumbling Gothic city of Ashborne who prowls the wastes outside fighting or evading monsters, negotiating with otherworldly things, scrying magical runes from antediluvian stones and gathering treasure.

If you play OSR tabletop games you might think I just described one! Grim Quest is so “on the nose” about being a video game port of Old School tabletop gaming that it directly calls itself an “Old School RPG” so you know exactly what you are in for.

The mood, the vibe, the dungeon synth in the background, the artwork, all of it is just like an OSR game. To be honest if you watch some of my actual plays on our channel...they kind of look like this but with a group of people.

To go further, this game is an OSR solo procedure crawl on your phone (also available on PC via Steam). If you want to see what an OSR game is about but only have 5 minutes, the app is free. If you love OSR games and want something to put you in the OSR mood, you should totally have this game on your phone. If nothing else, support the creator who clearly has a love of old school D&D.

It suffers from the limitations of other classic RPGs mentioned before, unlike the infinite weirdness that fractals out of an OSR campaign. But if your imagination can operate within the walls of a CRPG, you'll gain a sense of what an OSR game feels like with this mobile app alone.

2. Dark and Darker

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Dark and Darker takes the extraction shooter game formula and places you into a tattered cowl and linen tunic and hands you a short-sword or bow. You begin organizing with others online or friends in a tavern then can hop around and test your equipment in the loading space among all the players before being placed in a near picture perfect example of a classic D&D dungeon. Your goal in said dungeon is to evade traps and monsters and find treasure to bring back to the tavern to build up over time while dealing with the fact that groups of other adventurers are also there in the dungeon looking for the same loot, all while the 'bubble' of available space shrinks until only those who have either conquered the map or escaped will survive.

It's no mistake that its name forms “D and D” and it's clear that not only did the creators of it love D&D, but they must have loved the classic version of the game in particular with humans only, a strictly medieval fantasy grounded aesthetic and obscure and unreliable magic wielded only by specialists. It's easy to mention the parts of this game that don't capture classic D&D, and it's simply that there is no sanctuary game-play, no estate and no wilderness. If it had those things it would easily top this list, but alas, the only two parts to this game are negotiating with potential hirelings (other players) in town and buying and selling from merchants, then it's straight into the dungeon to get the loot and try to make it back alive.

The dungeon on the other hand is basically a 1 for 1 expression of classic D&D dungeon mechanics except in real time. Just like in OD&D or in B/X, if you mess around in a room and get too greedy trying to inspect for secret passages, disarming traps, overcoming puzzles or trying to bypass the lock on a treasure chest, danger will find you in the form of roaming rival adventure parties (other players) as well as groups of monsters.

The game has the shrinking blue bubble common in battle royale or extraction shooter games but in this game you have all the classic D&D types of classes like clerics, magic users and warriors. Weapons include 1:1 equivalents from classic D&D like different medieval ranged weapons, spells, and even two handed and pole-arm weapons vs. shorter range melee options. The environment is sometimes destructible and “Jacqauyed” in such a way that teams of players can problem solve and think to try and avoid encounters or use the environment to their advantage. That game leaves it to the players to decide if the intense lethality of combat is desirable, or more circ*mspection is warranted. Sometimes avoiding encounters as much as possible is the best solution, then dropping in for a Thief-y grab of some well sought treasure before diving for the portal out.

The combination of teamwork, the fear and tension of the dungeon, the almost perfect sword and sorcery aesthetic, the lethality, the dependence on problem solving, and the open ended nature of how the game allows you to approach the dungeon and situations is almost perfectly like an OSR dungeon crawl. If you like OSR games and video games, this is a must-buy.

1. Outward

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In Outward you and possibly one other friend must explore and survive in a huge, fantasy open world. You'll need to gather materials and treasure to build your kit over time and approach the possibility of combat and environmental hazards with the knowledge that the game automatically saves regardless of what has happens, meaning you don't get to pick and choose the endings and outcomes you want.

If you are felled in combat you might be dragged off by a group of bandits and ransomed as a slave or appear in a wolves den bloody, mangled and miles away from your equipment. The world though is beautiful, thoughtful, and honest. It doesn't seek to kill you it's just there, for you to explore and do with what you will. You can take things slowly and carefully and focus on interacting with NPCs at settlements while doing short loops into nearby adventure sites, or risk it all making your pack heavy and traveling to a faraway country on foot.

Outward is my #1 recommendation for capturing the feel of an old school tabletop role-playing game with 1 caveat: you should play this with a friend. The sense of cooperation, managing your equipment and load, the completely open ended world that on one hand doesn't try to explain itself or condescend to you and yet you can also master it, the feeling of danger, adventure, exploration, mystery and challenge, Outward has all these things. If I could never play a pencil and paper RPG again, I think this is the sort of game I'd go to in order to have the feel of fantasy adventure.


So there you have it! No video game can ever replicate the infinite imagination of tabletop pencil and paper adventure games but some can express some of the “feel” or “style” to enjoy or relate the experience a bit.

Hopefully if you are deep into the gronardiest corners of the OSR and are looking for something between games to have fun with this article has provided you some ideas. And if you are either curious about the OSR or are looking for common touchstones to discuss it with friends this list will help.

Special thanks to the following Facebook OSR communities: Dungeoncraft, OSR – Old School Roleplaying, TTRPG Community, . Discord OSR communities: Mythic Mountains RPG: Folk RPG HQ, Classic Adventure Gaming Podcast, OD&D – Discussion Board, Don't Split the Party, Mythmere Games, Mold School Games, Autarch, OSR Pick-up Games, TTRPG Community, Clerics war Ringmail, Free Kriegspeil Revolution (The Original FKR server), Tenkar's Tavern, Questing Beast, The Arcane Library.

Special thanks to Stripe from OSR Pick-up Games who gave really thoughtful examples.

Top ten video games that emulate Old School D&D (2024)


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