Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Classics

Back in 1979, Gary Gygax wondered:
Will D&D dead end when its novelty dies? That is impossible to answer. It is my personal opinion that the game form is a classic which is of the same stamp as chess and MONOPOLY® ; time will be the judge.
More than three decades later, I think it's pretty clear: while D&D's novelty is dead, that fact doesn't preclude its being considered a classic game. Tabletop roleplaying may not be as faddish as it once was, but it's here to stay, in one form or another. As I noted yesterday, there's a very real sense in which popular culture can be divided into "pre-Dungeons & Dragons" and "post-Dungeons & Dragons" eras. Can the same be said of Monopoly or Risk or Clue, three games most children have owned and grow up playing with their friends.

Given that, isn't it about time that some early edition of D&D be re-published in a "nostalgia edition?" Goodness knows I loathe the term "vintage" or "classic" when applied to early editions of the game -- never mind "legacy" -- but these are marketing terms with wide currency. Many popular boardgames have been re-released in nostalgia editions, using graphics and components from long out-of-print versions. Such editions appeal to nostalgia, of course, but they also emphasize continuity with the past by allowing multiple generations to share their common experiences. My parents played Monopoly when they were children, for example, just as I did and my children do. And what's important here is that three generations of us played the same game and that game is still available today in an unaltered form.

Why doesn't D&D deserve the same treatment? While my dream would be to see a re-released version of the LBBs, that's likely not practical for many reasons. But what about Moldvay/Cook? My issues with it aside, it's the first truly mass market version of the game, one that's well written and clear and yet not so far removed from the early culture of the hobby as to be alien to it. Plus, its "look" is unlike anything we've seen in many moons, making it an ideal candidate for being deemed "vintage" by the marketers who love such terminology. Wouldn't it be great to be able to buy this version of the game forever? A game I could not only buy for my children but that they could buy for theirs in the future? Is there any good reason why this hasn't already happened?

40 comments:

  1. Excellent point. I don't think there is any reason. Only marketing. Why sell a D&D that generates just one sell, instead of a D&D that generates sells from tons of books and miniatures?
    Perhaps sold with another name, but not as D&D.

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  2. It would mean selling aversion of D&D that was not published by TSR and would create a demand for further supplements that would take money away from the "one true" D&D.

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  3. I rather gathered that this was exactly what BHP was doing, more or less.

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  4. I would be willing to bet that if you put the Moldvay set or the Mentzer set out on Toys R Us shelves that they would still sell. Wouldn't be like the Golden Days, but it would still sell. They're basic games that work well! They are still fun to play today as they were when they were first written. Too bad the powers that be got away from that mentality!

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  5. I'll never understand why they sit on a treasure trove of gaming history yet release 100 different versions of monopoly or clue.

    I would have loved to see that happen but I think Hasbro/WOTC are missing the boat on this as the OSR is picking up that slack.

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  6. Seeing as how D&D is one of only 24 games to be inducted into the GAMES Hall of Fame, it's position of importance throughout the years has been established:

    http://www.gamesmagazine-online.com/gameslinks/hallofame.html

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  7. I believe that eventually WotC will do just that. Or rather, Hasbro will do so once they've allowed WotC to run the current model into the ground, and hit the point of diminishing marginal returns where a new edition of D&D is more expensive or almost more expensive to design and market than it is worth.

    Unfortunately, I doubt we'll see this happen until after 5th edition, probably sometime around 2020. My guess is that they'll just pull everything except Magic: the Money Pit from WotC. They won't want to spend any money on designers at that point, which suggests to me that they will release a "Classic D&D", a re-release of a previous edition. I do think the edition they'll choose will be Moldvay/Cook, though.

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  8. @metamorphosissigma: I'd be on Mentzer just because there is more to sell.

    That said, James, you may have hit on something TARGA could work on.

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  9. And hey, why not an online petition

    http://www.petitionspot.com/petitions/classicdnd

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  10. The first version of the game we call Monopoly was patented in 1903. It had a continuous path and properties, but had two distinct rounds of play and many other differences from our Monopoly.

    Charles Darrow kicked out a revised version to Parker Brothers in 1934. There was some back and forth before they bought it. For the next several years, there was a bunch of legal battles as Parker Brothers attempted to push the story that Darrow invented the game.

    The game's been pretty much the same since then. A few numerical changes, and Parker Brothers rewrote the rules significantly from Darrow's submission, but the version that was published in 1935 is very recognizable.

    However, we're talking about 30 years of evolution of the game before we got to the version of Monopoly you're thinking of as the classic version. Which I suppose implies that 100 years from now, when someone's publishing a vintage edition of D&D, it'll be the 4e rules using the antiquated art stylings of the 2000s and 2010s. ;)

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  11. I’ve been seeing this vision for a long time now. Having recently had the opportunity to introduce D&D to three people who had never played it before—avid WoW players no less—the Moldvay edition has shown that it can be just as good and fun today is it was in 1981.

    On the “more to sell” front: Look at the other games we’re talking about here. These games don’t have expansions. (When they do, they usually get integrated into the single product rather than sold separately.) This is entirely a different way of looking at the product.

    Yeah, D&D is different from those games. Yes, it did follow a different model. Yet, it doesn’t have to. In fact, most RPGs don’t ever get much in the way of support material.

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  12. Hasbro is the reason this hasn't happened. The people at the top of these large companies are very much divorced from the actual products they produce and the customers they serve.
    They are a class unto themselves, and superfluous to the actual functioning of a company. They are in charge of the decison making though, and their lack of understanding of their market and customers results in failure to capitalize on the potential of their products.
    Swords&Wizardry is quickly filling the hole that an Original Edition D&D could for WOTC/Hasbro, were they bright enough to even see it.
    As the economy worsens in the next few years, I think it's likely that Hasbro will begin jetisoning under preforming properties in an attempt to stay afloat.
    The best case scenario would be that someone who understands what they have gets ahold of D&D in all it's forms and puts out just such a cornerstone edition of OD&D with suppplements to expand it to each of the subsequent editons.
    This would put OD&D back at the heart of the game, and show the following editions as iterations of OD&D. Each appealing to a certain type of gamer according to their temperment.
    I think this would help to unifie the players of D&D as well as shore up the foundations of The Game.

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  13. I don't think this ever going to happen for the same Hasbro put the kibosh on .PDF sales of classic D&D material: they don't want earlier (not to mention, superior) versions of their IP competing with the current pile of crap they're selling now.

    I also fear that it's going to keep getting worse for the hobby. I've heard rumors that the new Heroscape expansion is essentially going to be the future of D&D. If that's true, they might as well just print the rules on the underside of the game cover and put the dice in a Pop-O-Matic bubble.

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  14. James Maliszewski said And what's important here is that three generations of us played the same game and that game is still available today in an unaltered form.

    I've said in other places that gaming should have followed this model. If you have cool new ideas, make a new game, not a new edition. Let continuity of the game stay like Clue and Monopoly.

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  15. Robert Fisher wrote:
    "On the “more to sell” front: Look at the other games we’re talking about here. These games don’t have expansions. (When they do, they usually get integrated into the single product rather than sold separately.) "

    Actually, that's not entirely accurate. Several of the other games on the Games Hall of Fame list have expansions (e.g. Civilization, Diplomacy, Settlers, etc). And if you count books about the game, or that add something to the game (e.g. the "official" Scrabble dictionary), then virtually all the games have expansions.

    In a slightly different context, how many books are there about how to play chess or go? Thousands--and those are supplements.

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  16. Anyone remember in Brave New World how the government wanted everyone to participate in expensive country sports like Electromagnetic Golf? Because you had to continually buy new furnishings for it. The idea of playing a game with the same ball and net over and over, and then using the ball and net in a different way for a different game, was considered ridiculous because people wouldn't consume enough.

    Excessive numbers of "core" rulebooks, many rule expansions and supplements, (randomized) minis, cards, tokens, modules, online services, maps ...

    You need three booklets, paper, pencil, and dice. That's why they refuse to sell OD&D.

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  17. >Goodness knows I loathe the term "vintage" or "classic" when applied to early editions of the game<

    I only like these terms when it applies to porn. Nothing like rekindling a childhood relationship!

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  18. Cool post. The notion never entered my brain since all these companies just want to push their shiny new product, supposedly improved. Still, it would be very cool. I don't mind the terms 'classic' or 'vintage' at all, since by definition they bring a sense of prestige to the item. Are the old-school products, classic by all accounts? Hell, yeah. Still- somewhere on the cover, it should state 'OD&D' or 'Basic' or whatever. However, we don't know if there are some loyalties tied to those products, which will prevent them from ever being published again...

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  19. > And hey, why not an online petition
    > http://www.petitionspot.com/petitions/classicdnd

    Why not, but;
    "Given D&D will turn 35 this year"

    = ??

    > James wrote:
    > Goodness knows I loathe the term "vintage" or "classic" when applied to early editions of the game

    "Original Collector's Edition" is OK though, James, so long as not applied to http://huntsmanslodge.com/914/are-you-kidding-me.htm ? ;)

    Is there any straw poll of words that /don't/ set grognards ablaze?

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  20. I don't quite understand it. OSRIC, Swords&Wizardry, Labyrinth Lord and several others are available in free as well as commercial versions, and are - with the exception of a few nuances only the hardest of the hardcore appreciate - functionally identical to not just one "D&D Classic" system, but all possible incarnations on it. What you are looking for already exists.

    Or is it the name people want? Or the official word that yes, in fact, Wizards of the Coast, Inc, subsidiary of Hasbro, Inc, cares about a few lonely voices in the wilderness? Would it add validity and usefulness if, say, Labyrinth Lord was republished with everything intact but for a different logo?

    I think the holders of the D&D IP have already done all that could be done for classic gaming by releasing the OGL. Intentionally or not, D&D Classic is out there and it is up to the community to live or die with it.

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  21. Don't forget that D&D - in *every* edition except arguably 0e - is far, far more complicated than Monopoly or Clue. They're literally trivial games, like Candyland and Snakes'n'Ladders (or Trivial Pursuit), simple enough that a young child can pick them up in five minutes.

    Moreover, you can start playing Monopoly without having any idea what you're doing - after materials setup, each step is self-explanatory. Clue is nearly as simple.

    D&D is something else entirely. The mere fact of 'character creation' - a big choice that will affect every aspect of the game, possibly the whole campaign, and which puts players on the spot right away - is a major sticking point. Hence the need for pregen characters.

    D&D is a tough marketing challenge - it's utterly juvenile, yet as complicated as a tabletop wargame, and there's no flash to fall back on (which helps e.g. Blizzard sell World of Warcraft).

    There's also this 'small matter': there are more elegant RPG systems, more carefully written, aimed directly at young people. If Hasbro is gonna head back to the 70's and 80's for RPG materials, why not snatch up West End's Ghostbusters game and reprint TSR's awesome Top Secret/S.I.? There's already a D&D product out there, whatever your opinion of it, and the 'beginner's RPG' niche needn't be filled by yet another medieval-fantasy product.

    This is in addition to the reasons already mentioned, further compounded by Melan's awkward but necessary point (i.e. that this isn't actually about the availability of the game, but commercial *validation*).

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  22. This is in addition to the reasons already mentioned, further compounded by Melan's awkward but necessary point (i.e. that this isn't actually about the availability of the game, but commercial *validation*).

    If anyone genuinely believes that my advocacy of this is about commercial validation, they clearly didn't get the point of the post, which is that there is no all-in-one, cross-generational version of D&D version available through "big box" retail stores. This isn't about validation; it's about the ability of a guy disconnected from the little echo chamber of the net being able to walk down to Wal-Mart and pick up a copy of D&D as he remembers it from his own youth and bring it home to play with his kids. Being able to do that isn't an issue for anyone reading this blog, but, as I'm constantly being told, gamers plugged into the old school scene represent only the tiniest fraction of the tiniest fraction of the hobby. We have what we want and will likely always do so, thanks to the OGL and the wonders of self-publishing, but what about all these ex-gamers brought into the hobby during its faddish days who might enjoy reliving those fun times every once in a while? Is it unreasonable to hope they might have ready access to the game as they remember it?

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  23. > ...there is no all-in-one, cross-generational version of D&D version available through "big box" retail stores.

    Anything other than 4e will presumably "confuse the marketplace" in this day-and-age.

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  24. James, without the commercial validation there will never be the "emotional" validation that you, me, and others would like from a reprinted, newly marketed, authentic representation of classic 0e.

    Believe me, I appreciate the "emotional" validation aspect. One of the gifts my g/f got me for Christa's was the wood box bookshelf "classic" edition of Risk with wooden pieces. It predates my version with the "caltrop" armies and led to much distraction over the holidays. Didn't even get to play, just enjoyed having it.

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  25. There's no money in it for WotC, so that's out. (And the retro-Clue isn't really analogous - it's the modern game in old-fashioned packaging, right? You wouldn't buy 4e with an Erol Otus cover either; more than anything, aren't you upset that the game has changed at all?)

    Anyhow, if this market of lapsed hobbyists exists, there's certainly an opportunity for OSR hobbyists to begin outreach on behalf of the retro-clones and illegal-but-morally-defensible PDFs. Start by putting up flyers in your local public library and bookstore, maybe? Submitting articles to Sunday lifestyle magazines and local newspapers? Donating printed copies of Labyrinth Lord or your lawfully-acquired D&D PDFs to some local organization? Advertising a 'Classic D&D night' at your neighborhood gym, or organizing a parents'n'kids game night at the local public school?

    BTW, Boston-area nerds: complete copies of 'Village of Hommlet' and 'Beyond the Crystal Cave' on the D&D shelf at Pandemonium in Cambridge MA at the moment. Just found a Cthulhu-mythos copy of Deities & Demigods and the original Greyhawk folio (w/maps - lovely!) in pristine condition too - $10 for both. Plus an original 'Boot Hill' and 'Top Secret/SI' alphabetized on the general RPG shelves. Good hunting gents!

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  26. (And the retro-Clue isn't really analogous - it's the modern game in old-fashioned packaging, right?

    Actually, no. In 2008, Clue's rules were changed and new game bearing the old name, with the subtitle "Discover the Secrets," was released to replace the original game, whose rules have remained more or less unchanged since 1949. The nostalgia edition is thus the original game with the artwork and graphic design from an earlier edition (one from the 60s, I believe).

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  27. Y'know, a version of the B/X rules was still in print up until 1999, and the last few were even packaged as a mass-market game sold through big-box stores:
    http://www.acaeum.com/ddindexes/setpages/setscans/basic91box.html
    http://www.acaeum.com/ddindexes/setpages/setscans/basic96book.html
    http://www.acaeum.com/ddindexes/setpages/setscans/basic96box.html.

    And I'm pretty sure hot, new, too complicated and "untrue to its roots" AD&D2 was still outselling them by a mighty margin.

    This isn't about validation; it's about the ability of a guy disconnected from the little echo chamber of the net being able to walk down to Wal-Mart and pick up a copy of D&D as he remembers it from his own youth ... We [in the OSR crowd] have what we want ... but what about all these ex-gamers brought into the hobby during its faddish days who might enjoy reliving those fun times every once in a while? Is it unreasonable to hope they might have ready access to the game as they remember it?

    And what about the guy whose first game was AD&D2? or the not-insubstantial number for whom it was D&D3 (its been a decade, some of the kids who first chose a feat have kids of their own now)? Why does that particular 27-year old version of the game get to be put forth as the definitive version if not for validation of it, or at the least advocacy of it?

    I actually do agree that Moldvay/Cook is the best version of any game with "D&D" on the cover, and further that its very odd that WotC has apparently given up on marketing its flagship title to anyone but dedicated hobbyists. But I don't mistake the former for anything but personal preference, and the latter issue is best approached as a new problem in a new era. Not as an obligation to cater to fogies like us.

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  28. Releasing the Moldvay/Cook edition as D&D Classic is a swell idea. Get to it, WOTC!

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  29. I think that te version of "D&D" that Gygax was refrring to, was the AD&D. OD&D is far too generic. there weren't enough background material or setting to make it unique. Most people define "D&D" in terms of character classes, monsters, treasure types, and spells, all AD&D features.

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  30. James- The retro-Clue was released a good two or three years before Discover The Secrets, though. So at the time they were coexisting with pretty much identical rules. As Bryant said, D&D's undergone evolution over the course of its existence, much as The Landlord Game gradually warped and changed into Monopoly.

    Because of these two factors I believe if they did release a Classic D&D box set, it would probably owe more as far as gameplay to later editions, and more as far as design to the earlier ones. And frankly I'm not sure that would appeal to anyone. Your set would mostly be turned off by the heavily balanced and modern rules, my set would mostly be turned off by the ugly, amateurish art.

    I would totally dig an updated BECMI/Rules Compendium boxset, though, don't get me wrong. RC is still one of my favorite games (Though I admit if I could I would reshape it a little to match my sensibilities).

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  31. At this point, I don't think Moldvay/Cook D&D would "take away" from sales for the modern iteration of D&D. The audiences are either distinctly different, or willing to play both. I don't think there's anyone out there who enjoys 4E who's suddenly going to abandon it because a "classic" D&D rules set got released.

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  32. @Rach's reflections: Why can't you?

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  33. I think it should be the Holmes rulebook, Keep on the Borderlands, a pad of 8.5" x 5.5" character sheets, a pad of 8.5" x 5.5" graph paper, a few of those little pencils that come in Clue and Yahtzee, and dice. Viola! All you need, in one little box! That’s not the version of D&D that I campaign with, but it is the kind that I bust out at parties.

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  34. WOTC did release starter boxes for 3 and 4e.

    I hope Paizo follows through on their expressed interest in producing an Old School-like product. If they get ambitious, they might consider making a Basic D&D-like starter box.

    Captcha: brack

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  35. faoladh: I sure as hell do! I meant that if I were to publish it I would do so my way.

    Mike: If there were enough interest in it from casuals I damned well might. I love playing D&D with first-timers and young kids because they get terribly creative.

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  36. irbyz: “Is there any straw poll of words that don’t set grognards ablaze?

    Of course not. Any word can do it. That’s why we’re called grumblers. ^_^

    Melan: Yes. The retro-clones are trying to fill the void. It just seems strange that they have to.

    Wally: Have you played 1981 D&D recently? It’s really not that much more complex than Monopoly, which is not quite as trivial as you depict. At least, that’s my opinion after having introduced both games to people in recent years.

    jdh417: I have the 3e starter box. It is a very different product from the 1981 Basic Set.

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  37. Akiva: “Actually, that's not entirely accurate. Several of the other games on the Games Hall of Fame list have expansions (e.g. Civilization, Diplomacy, Settlers, etc). And if you count books about the game, or that add something to the game (e.g. the "official" Scrabble dictionary), then virtually all the games have expansions.

    They hall of fame was only mentioned in the comments. That wasn’t the context I was meaning.

    Still, I think these expansions are clearly of a different sort than what we’ve seen with RPGs.

    The 1981 Basic Set did have the Expert Set (which was really the “full” game) and a planned Companion Set.

    I dunno. I’m just trying to explain why I think that a more conventional model could work just as well for D&D than the core, splat, settings, modules, etc. ad naseum that people seem to think is required for RPGs. Plenty of successful products help pay the bills for the people who create them without all of that. And D&D was successful before all that.

    In a slightly different context, how many books are there about how to play chess or go? Thousands--and those are supplements.

    That’s not quite the same. Those are generally independent from the publisher of the game itself. Just the way that paper, pencils, dice, and more get sold as “support” for D&D.

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  38. I've said in other places that gaming should have followed this model. If you have cool new ideas, make a new game, not a new edition. Let continuity of the game stay like Clue and Monopoly. (Via Patrick T.)

    Duuuude! I've been saying this for YEARS now. If your copy of a game works great (or as is my luck, hardly if ever even played) why buy a new edition just because the RPGnet types think YOU NEED TO TO SAVE THE INDUSTRY.

    They can't really think of any new or original ideas?

    I know a vast majority of the market just wants whatever has D&D on the cover and is current edition and all but.. MAN.

    Y'know, a version of the B/X rules was still in print up until 1999, and the last few were even packaged as a mass-market game sold through big-box stores:

    And I'm pretty sure hot, new, too complicated and "untrue to its roots" AD&D2 was still outselling them by a mighty margin. (Via ET)

    Actually the latter 2 I don't quite think I ever saw in any store, except maybe in Waldenbooks.

    The 91 Black Box? Same thing, though it and a couple adventure sets seemed designed in the boardgame box style of the day. I might have just missed them. Wasn't a toy collector then and never really went into toy aisles from 88-95. *

    I do remember hearing it sold amazingly well though, like high 6 low 7 digits.

    * Maybe its just me, but does it seem like most boardgames come in smaller boxes these days? Not too many of the old rectangular ones. The new ones seem to have MUCH deeper boxes, but way more square. It seems wrong somehow, though probably as a way to make more stuff fit in a smaller space.

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  39. Different way of thinkin', dude. Same reason they don't have expansion sets for "Monopoly" or "Clue." These are products in their own right.

    D&D, on the other hand, is now firmly plugged into the corporate mindset as "franchise," not "product in and of itself."

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