So, I would hope no one would be surprised by the fact that I look on the three earliest iterations of Dungeons & Dragons -- OD&D, Holmes Basic, and AD&D -- as my primary sources when it comes to discussing the game. Of the three, I played AD&D the most and the longest, while Holmes was my introduction into the hobby. OD&D I have played only a handful of times, but I revere it as an important historical artifact and quasi-philosophical text. When I am confused about the development of a particular rule or concept, I always refer back to OD&D to see where the idea began; it's a good guide when asking questions about D&D, even if it's rarely a place I find answers.
As I have refined my own views about this hobby, I've come to the conclusion that its faddish success in the late 70s and early 80s -- the so-called Golden Age of 1978-1982 -- was in fact a glorious Autumn before the onset of Fimbulwinter. My entry into the hobby in late 1979 puts me squarely in the middle of the Golden Age, when D&D became a household word and schools and public libraries across the nation sponsored game clubs and game days. Hobby and toy shops everywhere sold D&D books, dice, and miniatures and almost everyone in my circle of friends and acquaintances played the game.
It was a heady, exciting time to enter the hobby, because it was still a single hobby at this point. The first generation of gamers, the guys who'd played wargames in the late 60s and early 70s and who remembered a time when there was just D&D without the O or A, were still around and active. They were mentors to a lot of us and they took great pleasure, mixed with occasional annoyance, at all these young kids who suddenly took an interest in the same things they did. It was during this time that I was introduced to Robert E. Howard, H.P. Lovecraft, and Michael Moorcock, took up my love of history, and began my lifelong love affair with maps and languages.
Though only a young person, these were interests I shared with the older guys and together we formed a single hobby. Of course, the reason we formed a single hobby is because I had adopted my hobby from the older guys. I'd been "initiated" into the brotherhood and was deemed worthy to participate in its mysteries. There's a quote from Mike "Old Geezer" Mornard that's been making the rounds lately and it's a good and pertinent one:
Dave Arneson and Gary Gygax originally developed OD&D for adult wargamers. Those of us under 18 were there because invited, and because we could 'play like adults'.I'm certainly younger than Mornard and I never had the chance to game with Arneson, Gygax, and Barker as he has, but what he describes there mirrors my own experiences. Back in the day, I often played at game gatherings with "old" guys and never once considered it odd. We all could quote from Conan stories, knew details about the Hundred Years War, and liked to show off hand-drawn maps of our campaign worlds. Why wouldn't we game together?
But then something happened and that something was the mass marketing of D&D to appeal to people outside of this little brotherhood into which I'd been initiated. The Basic Rules of 1981 (Moldvay) and 1983 (Mentzer) were attempts to broaden the appeal of the game and make it more accessible to people who, either by circumstance or disposition, weren't able to hook into the network of masters and padawans that I'd so gleefully joined a few years previously.
The mass marketing of D&D succeeded and succeeded brilliantly, bolstering the ranks of people who bought TSR products. However, it was also a hammer blow to the common culture of the old school. The people who entered the hobby with Moldvay and Mentzer were (largely) those who discovered fantasy in the post-D&D world. They weren't into Howard or Moorcock; they were into "fantasy," this suddenly-popular genre of literature that had sprung up in the aftermath of D&D's amazing success. Let me be clear: I'm not faulting anyone for having been born too late to have experienced the Golden Age of Gaming or whose circumstances militated against their picking up a Lin Carter anthology and devouring it. Nevertheless, the influx of new gamers whose acquaintance with the old culture was superficial at best wrought changes, changes that weren't obvious at the time, but that, as the years wore on, shattered the old consensus, replacing it not with a new consensus but a fragmented one.
When I bemoan the state of the hobby today, I do so because I miss the old culture. I miss the days when I could enter a game shop and strike up a conversation with a guy thirty years my elder and share common interests and experiences. Fantasy now is too balkanized and diffuse to serve as the basis for a common culture. I often feel quite alienated from younger gamers, because, other than a vague commitment to "roleplaying" (however defined), we simply don't have a common frame of reference anymore. A lot of times I express my alienation in what comes across as contempt for the new stuff; heck, sometimes it is contempt. But what I am trying to get across is that I lament the passing of the day when there really was a brotherhood of gamers, when I really could talk about The Hobby with the definite article and it meant something that wasn't just platitudinous can't-we-all-just-get-along Kumbaya nonsense.
Often, what might appear to be anger on my part is actually sadness. I dearly miss the old hobby shops and companies. I miss the game clubs and game days. I miss the old school culture that I enthusiastically joined almost thirty years ago. Any ire I feel is mostly directed at those who argue that the things I miss are not just long gone -- I know that already -- but unimportant and that keeping their memory sacred is a waste of time. I simply won't accept that. 2008 has already seen the deaths of Gygax and Bledsaw, two titans of the Golden Age. Over the next few years, we'll undoubtedly lose even more of the founders of the hobby. I'm not willing to forget them or abandon the things they created; that's just not the way I am about the past, particularly when that past laid the groundwork for my present. I owe a lot to this hobby and I've chosen to honor it the best way I know how: by keeping the old culture alive and trying to inspire a little more love for it in others.
I know that makes me a fool, but I've been called worse.