Boingboing’s Peter Bebergal‘ Old School Dungeons & Dragons: Wizards of the Coast’s Problem Child analyzed OSR in a way I found oversimplified this interesting movement.
OSR is made up of many gamers, designers and publishers who are looking back AND looking forward. LotFP, DCC, Labyrinth Lord, ACKs clone much, but they also add significantly to game play – new and improved rules, settings and systems. This was for the most part made possible by WotC Ryan Dancy’s huge contribution to the hobby by way of the Open Game License, from which much was “retro-cloned”. RD’s influence on gaming I put right up there with Gary Gygax, because it started a tidal wave of open sourced RPGs that reinvigorated the hobby. You can find open versions of Traveller, Runequest, the WEG d6 system and more. First there were just add-ons for 3.5, then standalone games like 3.5, then retroclones and new “distributions” entirely.
OSR folks are not necessarily just old guys with nostalgia – nor more so that any current flavor of Linux is just nostalgia for Unix.
These things are not synonymous: TSR, Wizards of the Coast, and Hasbro. The current 4e is a Hasbro product and it shows. 3e/3.5e is very much a product of the WotC era. Wonder why Pathfinder resembles 3.5e? Because of much incredible talent of TSR +WotC moving to Paizo.
D&D Next is Hasbro’s response to lost market share – not just what they lost when the shipped 4e, but the continuous non-upgraders that happened with all previous versions. Many of those non-upgraders went to Pathfinder, but also many have moved over to the new generation of post clones. That market is huge, and growing. It is a smart move on the part of Hasbro, since they utterly failed to convert MMO lovers to the tabletop.