Tuesday, May 19, 2009

On Choosing a Tradition

Some of the most fascinating people I've ever met are religious converts. I find the idea of someone raised in one faith (or no faith at all) who makes a conscious decision to adopt another one -- almost always a fairly demanding one, I might add -- very intriguing. I think it takes a lot of courage to do something like that, not to mention a willingness to challenge one's own preconceptions and long-held notions. Regardless of whether I agree with the convert's specific decision, they've earned my respect by being serious about questions that a lot of people never even think about, let alone think about deeply enough to change their own outlook and behavior.

From my dealings with religious converts, I know that they often encounter hostility from people who don't understand and/or approve of their decision and suspicion from those whose religion they've now adopted. That's why I say I respect converts; it can't be easy to have people you've known all your life think you've gone "God crazy" or, worse yet, to have lifelong members of your new faith suspect your motives and imply that you're not a "real" X because you weren't born into the fold.

Now, I don't want this entry to become an excuse to talk about religion specifically and I ask anyone who comments on it to bear that in mind. I brought it up at all, because I often get emails from people who either think I've gone mad for having returned to my gaming roots over the last couple of years or who believe, because I wasn't there in 1974 and "only" started gaming in 1979 that I'm a poseur and this whole blog is just a big put-on. I find it bizarre honestly, but, for the first time in my life, I think I finally understand what it must be like to be a religious convert, even though I'm actually closer to what, in a religious context, is known as a "revert," that is, someone who returns to the religion of their birth after some time away from it.

For myself, my feeling remains the same: these are games we're talking about and, I hope, playing. That my tastes and interests have moved back toward those I had when I first entered the hobby is not, in fact, a sign of either insanity or deception. Neither is it evidence that I'm trying to suck up to that world renowned bunch of jet setters, the "true" grognards, you know, the guys who introduced me into the hobby 30 years ago.

At the end of the day, all that matters is that I'm having fun with my friends, which is the true measure of any hobby. I don't begrudge anyone who doesn't enjoy the old school stuff, but I do ask that no one question whether I am in fact enjoying it. Contrarian though I may be, even I lack the stubbornness necessary write over 700 blog posts just to show I'm not one of the great unwashed who'll never understand the deep wells of meaning contained within OD&D's lacunae. And if anyone does think that, I humbly suggest they know even less about human psychology generally than they do of me.

The Sage of Baltimore, H.L. Mencken, very aptly described Puritanism as "the haunting fear that someone, somewhere may be happy." There seems to be a lot of such Puritanism in the online gaming world these days. I know I've occasionally indulged in it, which is why you'll find that I rarely if ever talk about non-old school games on this blog anymore. I never talked much about them in the past either (fewer than 3% of my posts talk about any edition of D&D after 1e, for example), but I've made a concerted effort to avoid doing so in the interests of focusing on what I like to play and why. I certainly don't expect everyone to share my enthusiasm for this stuff, but I just don't get why anyone should doubt my sincerity. Mind you, the Internet is filled with things I just don't get, so perhaps I'm in good company.

30 comments:

  1. I "only" started in 1990 and I'm still enjoying myself with classic D&D. If any loudmouth out there doesn't approve, they can go pound sand. Life's too short to worry about people like that.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Really? I've had plenty of people express very strong opinions about my taste in RPGs, but I don't think anyone ever actually doubted my sincerity.

    Wow... That's some serious disconnect. It is less like: "I don't understand why you like the games you do" and is more like: "I doubt you actually like the games you do". Go figure.

    Well, you had me fooled, James. ;)

    ReplyDelete
  3. And what about those raised in a tradition that have come to ultimately reject all like-minded institutions?

    Both religion and gaming...

    Does it take the same "guts" to walk away from it all? Wash ones hands of all those preconceptions and turn to something completely outside the fold?

    I, for one, have experience with both.

    Interesting analogy James. But I do believe that no matter what, you'll have a handful of those very vocal few who will always deride whatever decision you've made, especially if it's not the "approved" one.

    ReplyDelete
  4. There have always been, and will always be, folks who just need a good solid punch in the nose and a swift kick to the behind.

    To use the vernacular, ignore the haters. Just do what you enjoy doing and to hell with those who don't get it.

    ReplyDelete
  5. "There seems to be a lot of such Puritanism in the online gaming world these days. "

    I think that's been around since almost the earliest days. I can remember vividly the arguments between fans of D&D/AD&D 1E on the one hand, and Runequest aficionados on the other.

    Gamer "purity crusades" are something I've never understood.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Agreed. Insular groups of "purists" who insist that nobody who wasn't "there" when the books hit the shelves can possibly appreicate those editions with sincerity baffle me. Why would they want to condemn the older editions and games to a slow death of attrition by marginalizing anyone who might show interest in them because they were not inducted into the hobby later? I can't help that I wasn't alive in the 70's...had I been, I imagine I would have played those editions. Considering the widening gulf between what has gone before (regarding D&D specifically) and where we are headed now, you'd think there would be a greater level of solidarity.

    ReplyDelete
  7. James, I only ever doubt you when you say something to the effect of "Gary Gygax says it's ok for me to do this, so I will!" Every time you find a new quote by him it seems that you use it as a justification for the goings on in your own gaming.

    As you more or less are saying here, you need justify to no-one, but the relgious convert analogy is a tad heavy-handed, even though you are pretty much just using it as an example. The extreme feelings somebody must need to have to change from one religous belief to another probably is far beyond the feelings of somebody who says fuck it to 4th ed. and picks up the little brown books.

    And I say that as a fallen catholic who doesn't know what the fuck he believes anymore...

    ReplyDelete
  8. And what about those raised in a tradition that have come to ultimately reject all like-minded institutions?

    My experience with such people is nil, so I'm not sure how I'd react, but, in principle, I have a lot of respect for anyone who makes a significant change in their outlook and behavior and do so after serious thought and consideration.

    ReplyDelete
  9. and Runequest aficionados on the other.

    Freaks! They were always stirring up trouble. ;-)

    ReplyDelete
  10. Considering the widening gulf between what has gone before (regarding D&D specifically) and where we are headed now, you'd think there would be a greater level of solidarity.

    Indeed and it's precisely for that reason that I've made a concerted effort to go back and look at other old school games I'd previously turned my nose up at, like Arduin or T&T, because I think, in the final analysis, fans of those games have far more in common with fans of OD&D/AD&D than they do with players of modern games. Nothing good comes from our continuing to squabble amongst ourselves and yet we do. Human nature, I guess.

    ReplyDelete
  11. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Indeed and it's precisely for that reason that I've made a concerted effort to go back and look at other old school games I'd previously turned my nose up at, like Arduin or T&T, because I think, in the final analysis, fans of those games have far more in common with fans of OD&D/AD&D than they do with players of modern games.


    That I do believe, whole heartedly!

    ReplyDelete
  13. If I lean on the religion metaphor a little longer, I'd guess anyone who takes issue either with your decisions or your "credentials" is engaging in some sort of boundary patrolling of their own - guarding their sacred image of gaming or circle of acolytes or whatever, and that they're not really talking to you at all. But you're too fair-minded to impute motives to them, so I should probably stop.

    verification word: defrug. To clear away rhetorical brush; to expose nonsense in an argument.

    ReplyDelete
  14. like Arduin or T&T, because I think, in the final analysis, fans of those games have far more in common with fans of OD&D/AD&D than they do with players of modern games<

    Amen, brutha.

    ReplyDelete
  15. This blog reminds me of this old rpg.net nugget from about two and a half years ago...

    http://forum.rpg.net/showthread.php?t=292074

    To sum up...
    OP: "My daughter and I had fun playing AD&D yesterday."
    Next poster: "No you didn't"

    Check Mike Mornard's post at page 14.

    ReplyDelete
  16. This might sound weird but I really suspect this attitude is connected to the fact that many people are absolutely convinced that when a new edition comes out it is the most advanced, or evolved version yet. This means you can't possibly have as much fun with earlier editions because current editions have perfected fun, until the next edition improves on it.

    ReplyDelete
  17. "And what about those raised in a tradition that have come to ultimately reject all like-minded institutions?"

    As someone who became an atheist (i.e., someone who rejects all forms of religious belief) after being raised as a devout Christian, I can attest that it is a very difficult thing to do, undoubtedly the most difficult thing that I've ever done. (Years of serious reflection and philosophical inquiry, however, left me no choice.)

    In contrast, returning to 'old school' D&D has been one of the most wonderfully easy and enjoyable things that I've ever done.

    ReplyDelete
  18. A very interesting post and one that really resounds with a lot of people. The people who feel entitled to deride others for not being there need to get real. I was 5 in '74 and really, I cannot help that. Yesterday I was talking to a guy whose 16-year-old son bought the 4e PHB and then took it back so that he can buy Labyrinth Lord. Is somebody going to blame that kid for being 16 and not being there back in the day?

    I believe that the Old School Revolution is gaining momentum.

    ReplyDelete
  19. Hm. Is there a danger here of valorizing suffering and deep contemplation where religion (and by extension gaming) is concerned? I was born into a partly devout, partly agnostic family and rejected theism outright at 7 or 8 (and despite a metaphysical turn of mind never really looked back). Is my choice somehow less valid, I wonder, than that of someone who underwent a traumatic break or conversion?

    ...I don't think James is insinuating this, I'm just thinking about the general tenor of the conversation.

    ReplyDelete
  20. FWIW, my point was more about the perils of adopting a tradition into which one was not "born," whether literally or figuratively. I see a lot of circling of the wagons to keep people out of the old school movement in some quarters, as well as the suggestion that many -- myself included -- somehow aren't really One of Us because I had the misfortune to five years old in 1974 rather than, say, 15. This parallels the experience I know many converts have faced, which is why I drew on the analogy.

    ReplyDelete
  21. I wholeheartedly endorse the introduction of H.L. Mencken and his sage advice into any posting.

    ReplyDelete
  22. As someone who became an atheist (i.e., someone who rejects all forms of religious belief) after being raised as a devout Christian, I can attest that it is a very difficult thing to do, undoubtedly the most difficult thing that I've ever done. (Years of serious reflection and philosophical inquiry, however, left me no choice.)

    In contrast, returning to 'old school' D&D has been one of the most wonderfully easy and enjoyable things that I've ever done.
    Your experience mirrors my own very closely. The only difference is that while my RPG roots are with the Moldvay/Cook edition of D&D, I've come to prefer simulacra of even earlier games (Swords & Wizardry, in particular).

    ReplyDelete
  23. James - the "circling of the wagons" among first generation old schoolers is regrettable, but I don't think it's surprising. Most niche subcultures define themselves in contradistinction to the main stream, and thus view newcomers with skepticism as the increased popularization of their choices threaten their very identities. While I am sympathetic to this attitude, there's ultimately no logical basis for it.

    I love bringing newcomers into the "flock" (to riff on your religious metaphor). I'm currently running an old school Swords and Wizardry campaign for a group containing four people who have never played any version of "D and D" or any other RPG for that matter, prior to this.

    For them this *is* gaming. I suspect that this is where much of the future lies for us. Not "hey lets play an old game" but "hey I've got this really cool game. Wanna play?"

    ReplyDelete
  24. So today is my 41st birthday, which means I've now been roleplaying for 30 years exactly.

    I was lucky enough to get some money in a birthday card so I'm heading off to Leisure Games to buy the new Monster Manual.

    Which is exactly what I did in 1979.

    I think this has now gone beyond being just a hobby, it's a lifestyle.

    ReplyDelete
  25. Thanks to runaway marketing and monopolisms by TSR and WoTC, "old school gaming" and 4th ED "D&D" are two separate games, which attract vastly separate crowds, methinks. I remember playing a game in 1987 when I was 20. We had this 40+ dude break out the PH, the Unearthed Arcana and start arguing that UA was not in canon. And we were just playing and his metagaming was way over our heads. I suppose its just a type of player and some things never change. I remember getting blown away when he broke out the tables and started coparing the stats in them. Man, the guy taking it so hmmm, what's the word? technically? seriously? literally?

    ReplyDelete
  26. For them this *is* gaming. I suspect that this is where much of the future lies for us. Not "hey lets play an old game" but "hey I've got this really cool game. Wanna play?"Kudos Ironbeard....THAT is exactly the attitude we should be emulating.

    ReplyDelete
  27. "Keeping the outsider outside" is a function of most subgroups; if you let in the poor guy that played 3E but now wants to try 1E, what does that do to your little sewing circle??? GASP! Unfortunately this mindset is what leads to unseemly prejudices and beliefs with no logical foundation. I find the older I get, I reject more and more this "cultural purism" that infests our hobby for a wide open, all embracing approach. Old school is a state of mind, anyway, not a sign up date....I'd rather game with someone 15 years old that "gets it" than some crusty 50 year old who spouts Gygaxisms from old Sorceror's Scroll columns to prove his chops.

    ReplyDelete
  28. Rules lawyers are a drag. Chalenging adventures rule. For your consieration of play flexibility - I have my players at second level and they are int he process of building a stronghold even as they are forced to sortie out on raid-type and caravan escort adventures. How possible? After compelting a multi-level dungeon crawl the characters were recognized as heroes by the local Baron. He gave them a landgrant of an abandoned farmhouse and a barn on his property, which the palyers must convert to a fencing school, where the players will be required o train the Baron's Men At Arms, you see, the party is led by a 3rd level fighter, a two-handed sword specialist under 2nd Ed Combat and Tactis Plyers Option supplement. The playesr started as a fencing club under the lead of the 3rd level fighter as their teacher. I mean each player could get any chracater they wanted, provided that the DM can add to character's biography and throw in a FEW disadvantages. Such as thief, being forced into being a snitch and then discovered by his guild (hence he joined the party and he has a major quest of finding a new guild with a fresh start and someone to teach him in the mean tiem lest he won't advance in level except in hit points (fencing school does that).
    So, they players are participating in an active adventuring campaign while trying to get the farmhouse fixed up and convert the Barn into a fencing school. AND, they will have to run a wagon to the old place where they used to live and get all the school gear. THE PARTY is thinking that they will just send the thief to the his guild and he will level up. The thief hasn't told them that he is a snitch. It's going to be fun. Now, what did Gygax say about players getting a stronghold at level 9, "name" level?

    ReplyDelete
  29. I wouldn't blame people if they would come out and say, "I only want to play with people over forty at this time." But claiming people aren't authentic enough? Sheesh.

    ReplyDelete

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.