As 2009 comes to a close, it's time once again to look to the coming year and make some foolish and likely mistaken predictions. Last year, I was fairly modest in my predictions, but, unless one is willing to be very charitable, I don't think either of them came to pass. There was no breakout old school product that attracted significant attention from outside our little community and neither did any "big name" company seriously jump on the bandwagon. I probably let my enthusiasm get the better of me last year, but now, with another year of seeing how things played out, I think I have a better sense of how things could unfold in 2010.
So, without further ado, here are my prognostications for next year:
1. The Renaissance Continues: This is a no-brainer. Back in 2008, when I started this blog, there was some doubt in many quarters whether the old school renaissance was just a momentary fad, spurred by anger over D&D IV or sadness over Gary's death or even nostalgia by aging gamers. I think those assessments were mistaken and shortsighted. It seems pretty clear to me that the old school community is here to stay. It's not going to take over the hobby, let alone the industry, by storm. It'll still be a niche within a niche, as it has been for some time. What's different now is that that niche is more accessible, using a distributed network of blogs and forums to discuss and exchange ideas rather than being headquartered in a single place. Even more important, the people involved in this niche are playing rather than merely talking and publishing what they're playing. I suspect there's now more old school gaming going on now than there has been in some time and there's certainly more old school products available than we've seen since the days of TSR. These trends will continue in 2010.
2. "Old School" as Nostalgia: Last year, I said I thought a big name company would make an entry into the old school market. That didn't really happen and the reason it didn't happen is because a lot of gamers' interest in the Old Ways is very superficial. They're interested in being reminded of the stuff they played as kids, but they're not all that interested in actually playing it. Consequently, if the term "old school" gets used outside our community, it'll mostly be a marketing term rather than a prescriptive one, an attempt to draw in older gamers with fond memories of "the red box" or White Plume Mountain or whatever. I don't think the Old Ways have any real traction among mainstream publishers, which is why you won't see any simple, 64-page RPGs produced by WotC or Steve Jackson Games or whoever in 2010. What you will see, though, is ever more mining of the old stuff for names and concepts to be ruthlessly "re-imagined," feeding the serpent that long plagued the industry.
3. Science Fantasy: This is an easy one. The big old school trend of 2010 will be science fantasy. We've begun to see the early fruits of this interest in a lot of places, but next year will see it reach full blossom. I expect at least a couple of campaign settings/adventures, along with at least one full ruleset for playing in worlds like those of Burroughs and Brackett. I also expect more "straight" fantasy to dabble in science fantasy concepts -- not outright adoption of all its elements, but rather the introduction of a few elements borrowed from science fantasy. This was inevitable, in retrospect. Any serious examination of the sources of the hobby would quickly see that, in the early days, fantasy and sci-fi were not contradictory but complementary genres. It was only a matter of time before "John Carter ... groping through black pits" would become a focus of old school love and attention.
4. Other Worlds: Running parallel to science fantasy will be a more general interest in other worlds for old school play, whether it be interplanetary, as in the case of science fantasy, or other planes/dimensions in the case of "standard" fantasy. I think it also possible we might see some interest in "the man out of time" as an important pillar of the pulp fantasies on which D&D was built. If I'm right about a renewed interest in other planes/dimensions, this does open up the possibility of presenting fantasy campaigns as places to which "ordinary" people from our world can journey and take up a life of adventure. This type of approach hasn't ever really been explored in the hobby, which makes it an attractive subject for old schoolers looking to break new ground.
And that's as far as I'll stick my neck out for now. Let's see if I prove a better predictor of the coming year than I was of the last.