Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Old School Culture

One of the occupational hazards of championing the older form of something for which an updated version exists is the charge of "fogeyism," which is to say, a form of contrariness with no rational basis, only an emotional attachment to the old over the new. Fogeyism is an extreme example of nostalgia or rose-colored glasses syndrome -- viewing the past in a purely subjective fashion and comparing it favorably to the present. Now, I can't deny I indulge in fogeyism from time to time. I'm temperamentally well-disposed toward contrariness, particularly when doing so makes people question the notion that "newer is better." Likewise, I'm a wretched traditionalist about most things in life, so, as a mindset, fogeyism suits me well.

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.

38 comments:

  1. I feel the same way, but I know you are not surprised by this. GenCon, this year, was very good for my soul, in that it allowed me to reconnect with the feelings I found missing. I am more enthused than ever this morning, even now, while I sift through the pile of work I have to do at the day job, all I can do is think about the projects I want to do.

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  2. The way I see it the Internet has ignited a new renaissance. It not going to be faddishly popular. But it will allow the old school games to be continued on a sustainable basis.

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  3. But it will allow the old school games to be continued on a sustainable basis.

    I hope that's true; I really do. A big part of me believes we're on the cusp of a renaissance, but there's still a small, pessimistic side of me that worries it's just an Indian Summer that'll give way to cold "weather" before too long.

    Fingers crossed.

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  5. Also, consider looking around for kids of fellow gamers that have started reading books -- what would that be? Age eight to ten? Ask your fellow gamers to bring their kids to the table. That's what I'm planning to do!

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  6. Thanks for this post.

    In large part, it explains why I was so readily accepted into my original gaming group, way back in the early 80s.

    See, there were two factions in the group: The Adults, who had been there for a while, who had learned the game under the guy who brought the game to town in the first place.

    Then there were the kids, known either as the Munchkins or the Munchies. These guys, as you said, hadn't been brought up on the classics of fantasy literature.

    I had. I had read Conan (but not the good Conan; I had read the Ace paperbacks that were out back then, which if you were lucky would have one story actually by Howard). I had read Moorcock.

    Also, I was already in college at the time, so I was immediately accepted as an Adult and not as a Munchie.

    Sure, the munchies knew the rules of the game better, but I had the background, so it didn't take me long to become a regular member of the group.

    I miss those days, too.

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  7. Here is perhaps a strange thing. I was born in 1979, I didn't start gaming until sometime in the early 1990s. However, I experienced a very similar "initiation", when my friends and I (aged about 12-13)joined a games club run by some older guys (maybe 18 or so). We gamed with them, and we were introduced to a "greater culture".

    Sure, that culture mainly involved Metallica, a disparaging view of the literary qualities of Dragonlance and enthusiasm for Conan, and a great diversity of RPGs and War Games (principally of the second generation), but that connection into an 'older' group absolutely informed my view of RPGs, fantasy/science fiction, etc...

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  8. Sure, that culture mainly involved Metallica, a disparaging view of the literary qualities of Dragonlance and enthusiasm for Conan, and a great diversity of RPGs and War Games (principally of the second generation), but that connection into an 'older' group absolutely informed my view of RPGs, fantasy/science fiction, etc...

    That's really interesting. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that there were pockets of the old culture still around. I'm sure they exist all over the world, but they're not the norm.

    Nonetheless, it's good to hear that someone was keeping the old ways alive well into the 90s.

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  9. Look at the board and counter wargame community. They suffered their fimbulwinter earlier than us. They have recovered to a sustainable level.

    Then there is a miniature wargaming, which was the kingpin of the 60's, got slammed by board and counter games in the 70's, RPGs in the 80s, and now has enjoyed a comeback that spanned nearly two decades largely thanks to Games Workshop and reinforced by WizKids.

    The trick is that the RPGs are going have to play to their strengths over the alternatives like MMORPGS. The key one is to minimize prep time. Which is an advantage of OD&D and other old school games.

    The design choices of D&D 4th have left many unhappy. That is an opportunity for OD&D to pick up some new fans.

    The key will be to make products that capture the old school style but use modern production values. A point that Jeff Rients makes. One that I agree with.

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  10. Another of the strengths of table top roleplaying over MMORPGS is the actual, face to face interaction with fellow gamers.

    I don't want to sit and stare at a computer screen; I want to sit with my friends and use my imagination.

    The jokes are better in person. Hell, so are the pictures...

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  11. Here's the problem I see with your complaint:

    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.

    While that is true consider it in context of something you write just below it:

    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.

    As I said in another comment: without Basic Lin Carter himself could not have played D&D.

    Even wargaming of the hex and chit kind wasn't determined to exclude someone like John Kagan if he couldn't find a club to join. Yet that's what the OD&D/Holmes/AD&D standard creates.

    And if you say "what about Holmes" I'll argue Holmes is less preserving of the culture than Moldavy, which at least points you towards the literary base of it.

    Finally, something else you said points out the dangers of such a strict standard:

    It was during this time that I was introduced to Robert E. Howard, H.P. Lovecraft, and Michael Moorcock,

    Unless you had direct access to pulps hardcore REH fans will, not without reason, claim you learned nothing of Conan or his other works in that time due to rewritings and rearranging and filler from authors other than REH. Number two in their hate list is the very man whose anthologies you cited, Lin Carter.

    I remember the culture and I miss it, but I think you're drawing too tight a noose about it. I don't think it was as unified or as inaccessible as you remember. I broke in on my own with Starship Troopers because I read science fiction and loved Star Trek.

    The TSR that created BX and BECMI was preservative of the culture and put great effort into it via the Dragon up until Dragonlance when that began to die off.

    Even then I think it was less TSR's activities that killed (with the possible exception of the SPI purchase) than internal elements in the community that turned its back on things like BD&D or Tactics II in favor of Squad Leader and the Europa series.

    That TSR soldiered on to keep new people coming in while the other sides descended into hardcore elitism isn't the fault of TSR. Even if you hold BD&D responsible for bringing in those not immersed already you must also blame those immersed for spurring the need to teach and include.

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  12. I find it deeply ironic that the post preceding this one was titled "I Hate Technology." There's something there that I can't quite put my finger on.

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  13. Hey, just be glad you had the opportunity to get into the culture relatively early, with older compatriots who could provide gaming mentoring. I didn't have that luxury, having been introduced D&D and AD&D only because of the Moldvay set display at the local Waldenbooks in 1981 (I'm 38).

    For the two years following that, I either "played" alone or had to press gang my father and/or younger brother into it. I finally found a group of three other people to play AD&D in 1985, and have never been in a group with more than 4 others.

    On the other hand, thanks to a grandfather who was an avid collector of pulps, I had read the "real" Conan (not the deservedly despised Lin Carter and deCamp), HPL, PKD, ERB, et al. and Tolkien, by the time I was 10. Never met a wargamer until college.

    Point is, Gygax's efforts to mass market AD&D were instrumental in me, someone who shared only part of the "common culture" (the literary part) or have access to the gaming community except through mass publications, finding out about D&D AT ALL. I'm grateful for B/X, 'cause without that funky Otus cover art I'd never have picked up the darn thing.

    I guess my point is that some of us only share part of the culture, but cherish the "old school" form of the game nonetheless. I've never played a wargame, have no interest in WWII history, etc., but I'm sure happy that those who did branched out into RPGs.

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  14. The key will be to make products that capture the old school style but use modern production values. A point that Jeff Rients makes. One that I agree with.

    I've made the same point on many occasions and it's one I feel strongly about. Mind you, I'm preaching to the choir here, because you've gone and made exactly the kind of old school product I want to see more of. Quite simply: Points of Light is a model for us all. Bravo!

    The larger point about wargames is also one I agree with. I've frequently been asked what I would like to see happen to the RPG hobby and my answer of late has been, "What happened to the wargames hobby."

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  15. Point is, Gygax's efforts to mass market AD&D were instrumental in me, someone who shared only part of the "common culture" (the literary part) or have access to the gaming community except through mass publications, finding out about D&D AT ALL. I'm grateful for B/X, 'cause without that funky Otus cover art I'd never have picked up the darn thing.

    An interesting comment on this is with the reading list in the B/X redbook. Reading it I think it's clear at least that version of Basic considered itself part of the larger culture. Not only in the books it included, but in what it excluded.

    It didn't exclude modern works. The first three Xanth books are on the list and all post-date OD&D and the first came out the same year as Holmes.

    But a book that came out the same year as Holmes is missing: The Sword of Shannara. The first of the flood of heavily Tolkien derivative works that would come in the 80s (and, IMHO, combine with D&D derived fantasy to lower the quality of the genre) was not on the reading list.

    I'm starting to see James's point Mentzer, at least concerning how TSR saw it (I think Frank saw it in the old school world) but I think even with TSR the editorial intent in 1981 was that the culture was important and that new people needed to be brought into it as well as the game. Dragon of the period also leads that conclusion but by 1985 it was changing.

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  16. As I said in another comment: without Basic Lin Carter himself could not have played D&D.

    And as I have said elsewhere before: I don't hate Moldvay or Mentzer Basic. Many, many, many people discovered the joys of D&D and were led back to the sources of it all through those sets and I am deeply grateful for that. But that doesn't change the fact that both sets were, in my opinion, mass market editions that watered down various elements of the originals and contributed to changes in the wider gaming culture I don't think much of.

    And if you say "what about Holmes" I'll argue Holmes is less preserving of the culture than Moldavy, which at least points you towards the literary base of it.

    The presence of a bibliography in Moldvay is, in fact, evidence that the culture represented by that bibliography was largely alien to the people picking that rules set. It was "preservative" only in the sense that, without it, the kids who bought and read Moldvay would never have heard of Howard or Anderson or Moorcock. Holmes has no bibliography because it didn't need one.

    Unless you had direct access to pulps hardcore REH fans will, not without reason, claim you learned nothing of Conan or his other works in that time due to rewritings and rearranging and filler from authors other than REH. Number two in their hate list is the very man whose anthologies you cited, Lin Carter.

    Here's the thing: hardcore REH fans are right. Carter and others did untold violence to the Conan canon with their popularizations. It's taken decades to get over the damage they wrought. Did they also do some good? Absolutely! I myself would never have read the real stuff if I had read the horrible pastiches, but for how many people is that the case?

    I remember the culture and I miss it, but I think you're drawing too tight a noose about it. I don't think it was as unified or as inaccessible as you remember. I broke in on my own with Starship Troopers because I read science fiction and loved Star Trek.

    Of course I'm drawing too tight a noose! That's the whole point of polemic. I don't have nearly as exclusionist a philosophy in practice as the one I sometimes post in my entries. But I also think that exceptions prove the rule. For everyone guy like you whose love of Trek led him to Heinlein or like me whose reading of Conan imitators led me to Howard, there are many scores more who never got beyond the popularizations. I think that's unfortunate, because it's those guys who created the gaming culture that exists today -- a copy of a copy of a copy of the original and I can't stand it.

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  17. There's something there that I can't quite put my finger on.

    Care to elaborate?

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  18. I'm starting to see James's point Mentzer, at least concerning how TSR saw it (I think Frank saw it in the old school world) but I think even with TSR the editorial intent in 1981 was that the culture was important and that new people needed to be brought into it as well as the game. Dragon of the period also leads that conclusion but by 1985 it was changing.

    Yeah, it's not like the world ended in one feel swoop or that there was a conspiracy by guys in Lake Geneva to sell out or anything. I'm not laying blame on any one person or one decision and I'm certainly not faulting people who got into the hobby late and whose experience of it postdates stuff that, to me, is "where it all went wrong."

    At the same time, I also think that the people who are getting their backs up about my comments are the ones who seem to think it was one person or event that ruined it all -- except it's some person or event other than the ones they happen to like and that I point to as steps on the road to perdition.

    And here's the other thing: Holmes Basic itself, not to mention AD&D, are also steps on the same road. Both were conceived as popularizations and mass marketed versions of OD&D for a crowd that wasn't part of the original adopters of the game. They're just as culpable, but, because they're earlier in the progression, their sins are smaller and less obvious. But they're sins nonetheless.

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  19. Another of the strengths of table top roleplaying over MMORPGS is the actual, face to face interaction with fellow gamers.
    Unfortunately, I suspect more and more gaming of every kind will be done remotely. Maybe that's just me thinking about my own greying and procreating demographic that finds it hard to find other gamers.

    I can't remember if anyone else already mentioned S. John Ross' notorious little paper here. He himself asserts that it discusses commercial appeal and not quality in games, but I think he does a good job of rounding up what's special about SATTRPGing, especially where he notes that RPGs involve fellowship among the players, and are the only medium that offers tactical infinity: the ability to go anywhere, try anything and sweet-talk the DM/universe into compliance with a trumped-up plan.

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  20. At the same time, I also think that the people who are getting their backs up about my comments are the ones who seem to think it was one person or event that ruined it all -- except it's some person or event other than the ones they happen to like and that I point to as steps on the road to perdition.

    I don't blame one person or event, but two factors in combination, both of which came into play as the old guard left leadership positions.

    The funny thing is they are contrary trends.

    The first is the TSR issue you see and that other companies had as well: the lure of mass market success of the prioritization of it over maintaining ties to the old base. TSR isn't the only example: the sale of Axis & Allies by Nova to MB and the resulting changes to make A&A more "Toys 'R' Us friendly" is another.

    At the same time a significant portion of the culture, especially the hex and chit guys, decided that instead of bringing the new people in they needed to concentrate on the hardcore games. To some degree they become hostile to new people, especially those under 20. This is, in no small part I'm sure, to going from a 20:1 ratio of adults (including those over 16 who could drive themselves) to kids to something closer to 2:1 or less from B/X and D&D being a fad.

    Had the old guard reacted differently in the early 80s I think both hobbies would have fared better. Had TSR not throw any interest but the mass market dollar overboard in the second half of the 80s the old guard might have come back to the mindset of the late 70s.

    Together the two reinforced each other in a destructive way.

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  21. Together the two reinforced each other in a destructive way.

    I definitely think you're on to something here.

    My ideal would be to try and mass market a do-it-yourself RPG, that is, to try and make a modern version of OD&D with high production values and organization but whose central appeal is that "it's the game you make yourself."

    But that's a bit like trying to mass market building your own model railroads and I don't see that happening.

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  22. But that's a bit like trying to mass market building your own model railroads and I don't see that happening.

    Well, that depends on what you mean by build you own (and as an aside, it's amazing how many old schoolers have some connection to model railroading). Model railroading has tons of levels from everything scratchbuilt to everything store bought and snapped together.

    However, there is one critical difference in RPGs favor here. I cannot, in reasonable time or energy, duplicate the detail on modern plastic injection molded models with add on parts. I can build "dollar cars" (a book Kalmbach hasn't published in a couple of decades) in roughly the same time and cash and have a good overview look, but close up detail I'll get killed. Only truly master model builders can compete with prebuilt products.

    That is not true of gaming. A decent DM of moderate experience can write adventures or worlds as good as store bought. More importantly they will have a much better fit to his groups needs.

    A model of the ubiquitous northeastern caboose is pretty much a handful of detail parts and a paint job away from what you need exactly (and that's a worst case). No version of the Forgotten Realms will ever be able to claim that.

    In fact, that's why I think you were so on to something with you claim that Dragonlance is the bright line between "doing it mostly right" and "doing it mostly wrong"...it packages, to a degree destructive to what makes the hobby unique, details that should be done by the gamer.

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  23. Unfortunately, I suspect more and more gaming of every kind will be done remotely. Maybe that's just me thinking about my own greying and procreating demographic that finds it hard to find other gamers.

    My prediction that there will be two major trends in Tabletop RPGs. Both involving the use of computers to automate the rules. But neither an MMORPG.

    The first will be the continued development of Virtual Table Tops.

    The second will be device like Microsoft Surface which will be a table or a roll out display mat that you will game on.

    This may tie into miniatures that had RFID style chips in them to encode stats.

    Finally from left field that RPGs will have to watch out for are personal MMORPGs. Think of Neverwinter Nights only easier to use and with customized content. City of Heroes is promising player generated custom missions so the first steps are being taken in this direction.

    All of this is system or play style agnostic. The major exception is that with computer assistance seriously crunchy rule sets now become accessible to more players.

    I predict the defining line between Tabletop and MMORPGS will not be the use of computers but the presence of a GM or not.

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  24. "My prediction that there will be two major trends in Tabletop RPGs. Both involving the use of computers to automate the rules. But neither an MMORPG."

    I agree a lot with your thinking. RPGs will slowly but surely adopt the tools around them and adapt them to their needs, regardless as how often the earlier tries (D&D Insider)stumble or fall flat on their face. As hobbies survive the times, they more and more reflect them. It is the pure essence of generational splits in hobbies.

    Someday folks will be rolling dice and moving holo minis and folks like us will be grumbling about the days when a fellow didn't need holo-goggles and tacti-gloves to play a game.

    I love the old ways, but changes are, unfortunately, inevitable.

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  25. This post struck a chord with me. I started in 82. My first gaming experiences felt like being invited into another world.

    The one thing I don't think that can ever be recaptured is the newness of it all. It's important to remember that part of what was so great was thinking about the possibilities that had just opened up.

    That said, as mentioned in the Art of Old School post, game development has since left less and less to those who play the games. The rules are there. the mechanics must 'make sense' (be simple). The forum discussions I've seen about rules in 4E baffle me. Everything is assumed to be concrete. In this sense, RPGs have changed in a way that doesn't necessarily reflect progress, or even evolution. In many ways the hobby has just been dumbed down for cash.

    So, in short, the newness will never come back. However, I do think there are real reasons that warrant revival of old school qualities.

    I say this as someone who spent the last two years doing that.

    Still, are people like us willing to accept the new old school? Even if it's put down in front of us? Even if we'd greet it with open arms back in the day?

    Or, will we just call each attempt another copy that we would have done differently?

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  26. That is not true of gaming. A decent DM of moderate experience can write adventures or worlds as good as store bought. More importantly they will have a much better fit to his groups needs.

    True enough, but it takes time in addition to experience to do this and we're constantly told that the reason why modern RPGs need so much mechanical "automation" is because no one has the time we used to have as kids. I'm not at all convinced this is true, but, assuming it is, I think it points to a creative space for simpler, more flexible games rather than the monstrosities we get today.

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  27. I love the old ways, but changes are, unfortunately, inevitable.

    Despite it all, I'm actually a fan of many changes on the "technical" side of things, particularly when it comes to presentation. What I am not a fan of is the change in philosophy between the old school and the new school. It's that that I intensely dislike.

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  28. Still, are people like us willing to accept the new old school? Even if it's put down in front of us? Even if we'd greet it with open arms back in the day?

    You have any examples of "new old school" games? I think the question you raise is a good one, but I'd like to concretize it a bit if possible.

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  29. I believe Jimmy of the YOGC actually sent you an email Saturday with a link to Wayfarers.

    Since you are asking, that's my take on the new old-school.

    To be honest, at first glance you'll think you know it. In fact, we might have gone too far in that fashion. But believe me, it was far from tossed together.

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  30. To be honest, at first glance you'll think you know it. In fact, we might have gone too far in that fashion. But believe me, it was far from tossed together.

    I have Wayfarers sitting on my desktop and plan to get round to looking at it more fully after the weekend. I'll admit that I am intrigued by what I saw after a quick glance, but I'd like to take the time to read it fully before offering an evaluation of it.

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  31. At the very least, I hope you find something worth stealing for your own games. :)

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  32. I think there is something we can do about this situation. Really, there is. And its beginning already. You probably already know that Erik Mona, publisher at PAIZO, reads your blog. I believe is is the new "steward" of our game, picking up where wotc abandoned our traditions and history of 30+ years. Pathfinder RPG has the feel of the old days, and the shine of the new. Monte Cook and Jason Bulmahn are where dungeons and dragons truly continues.

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  33. 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.

    Hi James -- I hope this doesn't come across as a blanket dismissal of your feelings, which you report with great passion and clarity -- but I feel strongly in the other direction on this and wanted to mention that.

    Others have mentioned tactical infinity as a strength of RPGs. I'd go one further and say that the great unmatchable strength of RPGs is everything infinity. The tabletop medium is flexible enough to accommodate any kind of imaginative play even beyond "go anywhere and do anything."

    That's a good thing, because people play these games for all kinds of reasons. I believe that whatever your imaginative itch, tabletop RPG can scratch it. If you play because you want to create interesting stories, there are groups and rule sets that will cater to you. If you play because you want to immerse yourself in another other character in a different reality, there are groups and games for you. If you play because you want to be challenged and emerge as the winner, well, you can do that too.

    (and these are not mutually exclusive play styles, nor are they an exhaustive list. I'd guess that most groups and games do more than one of those things at a time -- but I'd also guess that most people do have a favorite play agenda.)

    I've enjoyed my gaming much more since I figured out what I wanted from it and started biasing my choice of rules and groups that had similar tastes. And I think I'm a better player and GM for having experienced a wide variety of play styles -- these days, I try to consciously change up my approach so that I'm in sync with the others at the table. I don't know how successful I am at making other peoples' games fun, but boring or unenjoyable sessions are quite rare for me nowadays, whereas back in the old days they were at least a significant minority.

    For me, today is the Golden Age.

    Just to reiterate, this isn't meant to negate your observations. It's just that, in my experience, the fractalization of tabletop RPG is a great and necessary strength. And it's good to see the old-schoolers setting up their own curl within that fractal. Because with a great group and a ruleset that's not too stupid, your style of game is a very fine thing indeed. The recent KoDT story about Brian's Western game really made me pine for a good immerse-yourself-in-the-expert-GM's-environment game.

    (and I still owe you some words regarding the mix of old and new school in 4E -- I've been mulling on our previous discussion. While 4E supports creative player actions decently, it does so incompletely and very very quietly. This will probably surface as a full post elsewhere instead of just a comment. :)

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  34. Pathfinder RPG has the feel of the old days, and the shine of the new.

    There's certainly a fair bit of truth to this. I love the Paizo guys and gals to death. They respect the traditions of the game and the literature that inspired it. That earns them a lot of goodwill in my books. I'm not quite convinced that the Pathfinder RPG is a good fit for me, though, but I understand why it was designed as it was and I can't fault Paizo for that. I do wish the game were simpler, because I really want to support the company and its efforts as much as I can.

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  35. For me, today is the Golden Age.

    There's certainly some truth to this assertion, particularly if variety and diversity is your thing. The reason I wouldn't call today a Golden Age, though, is because my preferred curl within that fractal is denigrated and marginalized by many of the other curls. I don't care about popularity as such; I just wish there weren't so much misunderstanding and outright ignorance about the old school. If I sensed more of that, I might be happier with the thousand flowers that are blooming right now.

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  36. Great article, James! If you don't mind - I'll translate it into Polish and place it on my blog? With link and author's rights of course.

    Not all my readers knows a lot of English, and it's meritorically "dense" and worth to read by any true RPG fan.

    Thanx in advance!
    J.

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  37. If you don't mind - I'll translate it into Polish and place it on my blog? With link and author's rights of course.

    Please, feel free to do so if you think your readers would find it of interest.

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  38. Please, feel free to do so if you think your readers would find it of interest.

    Absolutely. I've always dislike conceptions of cumulative evolution in history, or similar "theories" (like marksism) - of course in broader sense, not only in RPG's hobby etc. It's so simple to say: Hey, you old crow! What do you know 'bout new? We're getting better and better in any spheres of life - it's huge cumulation, a sum of all. It's nonsense, becasue they forgot about past experiences and are too lazy to learn anything from it. Notice - we, humans, still do same and same old mistakes, same errors and so on.

    Sum: I can't see anything better in newer than older. Culture isn't an item or artifact - like engine - to get better and better. Those guys are (in plain and simple words) stupid, unexperienced kids. Like were stupid their predecessors, who said such silly mumblings in the past. Closed circle.

    Ok, end of boring comment :). Thanks again!

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