Monday, December 13, 2010

Observations

A common complaint about the old school renaissance is that it's too "D&D-centric," the unsaid implication being in many cases that either a) there's not an interest in old school gaming broadly conceived and therefore no one should pay the OSR any heed or b) there's an active effort to restrict discussion of old school gaming just to D&D, because "old school" only makes sense in that context (and we're a bunch of meanies who hate everything that isn't D&D).

To this complaint I can only offer two related observations. First, I regularly post about games other than D&D and, with very few exceptions, those posts garner significantly fewer comments and views than D&D-related ones. Second, I don't think this is at all odd, given that, now as then, Dungeons & Dragons remains the proverbial 800-lb. gorilla of the hobby. It's the game most people play (or have played) and so naturally generates far more interest than, say, Stormbringer or Space Opera or whatever other old school RPG I'm keen to talk about on any given day. There's neither a conspiracy nor blinders at work here, only reality.

I'll add here that I think that many, though not all, of the complaints come from folks who aren't actually paying much attention to the current state of the old school renaissance. There are quite a few new old school games in the works right now, as well as a couple that are already available, like Kevin Crawford's awesome Stars Without Number, that reveal an interest in both old school themes and, more importantly, design principles beyond the creation of yet another D&D retro-clone. Likewise, blogs and forums devoted primarily to non-D&D old school RPGs, such as Tunnels & Trolls, RuneQuest, and Villains & Vigilantes, to cite just three obvious ones, are starting to pop up all over the place. That's a good thing in my opinion and, while the expansion of the OSR beyond D&D might be slower and less impressive than some might wish, it is occurring and I fully expect it to continue to do so in the years to come.

22 comments:

  1. Thank you for posting the link to the "Stars Without Number" RPG!

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  2. Also, the owners of these other games' brands haven't completely demolished the rules, thus creating a "movement" as a by-product of lousy business decisions.

    It's a silly complaint anyhow. If you want to go talk about some other game, go make your blog, forum, or whatnot, and go talk about it. If nobody else is talking about it, there's the distinct possibility it's not that interesting.

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  3. I regularly post about games other than D&D and, with very few exceptions, those posts garner significantly fewer comments and views than D&D-related ones.

    Ain't that the truth. Speaking from my own experience, I write two blogs: one which covers traditional, old school play using D&D and the retro-clones, the other which is all about tinkering with GORE or BRP. The D&D blog has more than 200 followers; the other, 10.

    Even considering that the GORE blog is much more a labor of love and only regularly updated, those numbers clearly show that there is more interest in D&D (and, to a lesser extent, old TSR titles) than anything elese. That's a shame, but it's reality.

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  4. But it's always been that way.

    Sure, there were always lots of people playing Traveller, CoC, RQ, T&T, etc., but, there were always a lot more folks playing with the gorilla (so to speak). D&D has always been much more widespread and available to players.

    This is only my opinion of course, since I don't have actual statistical proof, just decades of observation.

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  5. If you were to count the number of people on this planet who have played pre-3e D&D,

    And if you were to count the number of people who have played any and all other RPGs in the entire hobby,

    I would guess the former group would be much, much larger.

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  6. Well, let's look at some of the other Powerhouses of the Old Days (or at least my personal old days). Note that this information is all anecdotal based purely on what I've seen or heard, and I make no claims otherwise. I'd be interested to hear if I'm missing something...

    Call of Cthulhu marches on at 1d4 Investigators per round largely unchanged since 1980. It needs no renaissance because it's still doing just fine. If people want to talk CoC, there are blogs and podcasts-a-plenty for it, starting with Yog-Sothoth.com.

    Star Frontiers suffers from Abandoned Game Syndrome, its small-but-devoted fanbase notwithstanding.

    Gamma World just got an official facelift to mixed reception. It seems to still be in the "fun pickup game for off-nights" category that I recall from the hazy past.

    Traveller is as fragmented as its universe; in my gaming experience, I never actually met anyone who played Traveller as much as they thought about it. And once the first official Star Wars RPG came out, both Traveller and Star Frontiers lost all those people who were just playing those games because there wasn't one for Star Wars.

    Tunnels and Trolls remains the quirky fanproject it always was, but can't really be heard over the noise of all the other quirky fanprojects. The most recent version that I actually saw in a store (the 7th Edition in a tin can) was even more incoherent than the 5th edition I knew and loved in 1984.

    Runequest wandered off somewhere, and despite various heroic attempts by fans, has never really recovered.

    RM/MERP pretty much went *poof* with ICE, although its DNA is all over the d20 system thanks to Monte Cook.

    Champions still exists, but has become an even bigger Math Nightmare than it was back in the day. The HERO System back in the Big Blue Book days used to be my go-to for everything, but these days it feels a bit overwrought for what you get out of it.

    GURPS ... honestly I don't know what's happening with GURPS. I haven't heard anyone talk about it for years. I still use the worldbooks from time to time.

    So really, given the state of things, is it any wonder that D&D gets the lion's share of attention? It has the widest recognition, the largest pool of players, and the most one-size-fits-all utility of fantasy games. I won't say it's the "best" because that's not really a meaningful concept in gaming. The "best" system is the one that most fully supports your style of play. But it -is- one of the most widely-supported and widely-recongized, which gives it a distinct "mindspace" advantage.

    -The Gneech

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  7. "Runequest wandered off somewhere, and despite various heroic attempts by fans, has never really recovered."

    err what about....

    Mongoose RuneQuest, 1st and 2nd editions, supported by a line of many supplements.

    Chaosium's Basic Roleplaying with a large amount of support including the Ennie Award Winning BRP Rome by Alephatar Games.

    My own OpenQuest a OGL tribute game made up of the best bits of RQ2/RQ3/MRQ/Stormbringer and some house rules, with 2 supplements so far

    ..and best of all the republication of the Gloranthan RQ2 Classics (Pavis and Big Rubble, Griffin Mountain, Cults Compendium, Borderlands and Beyond) which may no longer in print (that boat sailed in the late 90s early 2000s) but are readily available as pdfs from Moon Design via Drivethrurpg.com.

    RuneQuest ain't wandered off into oblivion, the old persistant rhino of a game is charging straight at you mate ;)

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  8. "Runequest...has never really recovered."

    Then again, Glorantha never really left. Like Belintar (or Tekumel) it just keeps switching bodies.

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  9. Newtus speaks the truth: RuneQuest is very much still there in no less than 3 fully supported versions (MRQII, BRP and OpenQuest) and with 5 companies supporting them (Mongoose, Chaosium, Alephtar Games, D101 Games and Cubicle 7). Plus, at least 2 new retroclone-ish versions in the works and a neat Tolkienesque version floating in the interwebs. To put it simply: 20 years ago RuneQuest was MUCH LESS supported than today.

    MRQII may not be the RQ2 of the olden days but it is incomparably closer to it than D&D4 is to OD&D or AD&D. So, RQ fans do not have necessarily to be actively and consciously old school.

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  10. An interesting observation just made above... A lot of older games that are still around don't need the OSR because they haven't changed enough to warrant it. I really think that the OSR is reactionary to the sweeping changes made to D&D over the last 10 years, more so than any other game.

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  11. "GURPS ... honestly I don't know what's happening with GURPS."

    Still around, in its 4th Edition, and spinning out a specialized variant "GURPS Dungeon Fantasy" that's got quite a bit of the old-school sensibility while still being compatible with GURPS.

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  12. D&D was the one and only tabletop rpg that was a truly mass phenomena. The game was a powerful synthesis that caught hold of millions' minds--and was co-opted into a mass marketing machine that ensured at least as a brand would keep on trucking for decades.

    You can argue the various merits and drawbacks of the countless fellow riders but at the end of the day they just don't hold the same social weight as D&D does in all its collective iterations.

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  13. I have to agree with what my namesake said.

    Most of the other old-school games are in a position where it is difficult to do a fan revival - mainly because they still exist as properties.

    CoC has hardly changed through the years. RQ is still going. V&V has been revived by its creators. T&T is still being published. Traveller is with Mongoose atm and is almost the same as the LBB version. Space Opera is still being sold by FGU. Only D&D seems to have needed the OSR movement to get going again.

    However, what about new games that emulate the old school games, whether in atmosphere or in mechanics?

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  14. I agree with toddroe. I think the OSR is primarily about legacy versions of D&D for the simple fact that most other games (CoC, RQ, etc) have not had their DNA as drastically modified over the years as D&D has.

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  15. I have enjoyed the OSR adaptations of the old Conan rpg and the Marvel Superheroes game. While many cringe at the thought of a "percentile column color coded game," these were fun systems and I am glad they have retroclones.

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  16. @Christian

    The percentile column color code is the greatest invention in the history of mankind, beating out fire, penicillin and the steam engine.

    I loved it frankly. Every chart/matrix you needed condensed into one handy page on the back of the books. Made everything quick and easy to use on the fly, the way a superhero game should be.

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  17. I agree that it was the sweeping changes to D&D that gave birth to the Old School Movement. It was the appearance of 4th Ed that truly crystallized the movement by causing many people to renounce their allegiance to the new game (even if their discontent started far earlier).

    Most games are still recognisably connected to their forebears. Changes in BRP through time are no more involved than the changes imposed on the various BRP variants.

    Apart from Ironclaw (the 2nd edition of the game is considerably different from the 1st edition [my initial comment was "oh my Goddess, they've done a 4th Ed on it"]), the only other games I can think of which are truly old school are licensed properties, such as Star Wars and Star Trek, where the entire game system has been changed when the game shifted companies.* But then, being licensed properties, there can be no Old School Rennaissance because it is impossible to support clones of the old game systems without violating the intellectual property of the licensors.

    [* Surprisingly Empire of the Petal Throne definitely fits this criteria, as each posessor of the license has tried to fit their own game system to the world of Tekumel and mostly failed to capture the true elusive essence of that world (at least as perceived by the fanatical followers of M.A.R. Barker.**]

    [** Who are as fanatical as any other set of fandom. Such as the Gloranthaphiles who believe if you are not playing Heroquest then you are not truly playing in Glorantha any more. (So I suppose an argument can be made that this segment of Runequest players can also be part of the Old School Movement, in this specific circumstance). Which totally destroys my initial example. Oh well. <grin>]

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  18. I think that we presently are in the midst of a 'BRP Renaissance'!

    It differs from the OSR (as some other commenters have pointed out) insofar as BRP never really went away (it consistently has been supported, in one form or another, by Chaosium since 1976). However, BRP did go through a rough patch in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Now, though, it is supported by a surprisingly large number of 'professional' RPG companies (Chaosium, Mongoose, Cubicle 7, etc.). And there also are a number of fine fan-created projects, like Newt's excellent 'OpenQuest'.

    It's a good time to be a BRP fan!

    Some more thoughts here:
    http://akraticwizardry.blogspot.com/2010/10/old-school-renaissance-at-least-with.html

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  19. I find your articles about D&D inspiring, but the ones about other game systems are interesting too. I'm 38; I remember seeing games like Space Opera in the hobby shops back in the day, and they looked fascinating, but I never had the money to invest in them until long after they were out of print. It is cool to see them talked about.

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  20. "Such as the Gloranthaphiles who believe if you are not playing Heroquest then you are not truly playing in Glorantha any more."

    Speaking as a Gloranthaphile (who publishes one of the Fanzines: Hearts in Glorantha) I can happily point out that is no longer true. It might have been the case in the early 2000s when Greg Stafford was pushing the point of view that "HeroWars/HeroQuest" was the best system to support playing in Glorantha, partly out of personal preferance but also out of commerical neccessity (this was the period when his company Issaries Inc was publishing the game). I know this first hand because I was running a demo team which we ended up calling the Ring of HeroQuest Narrators rather than the Ring of Gloranthan Gamesmasters because Issaries didn't want us to promote RQ in anyway shape or form. In recent years, especially since the publishing of MRQ2 and HeroQuest 2, Glorantha has happily gone system-non-specific. This happened at a publisher level as well. HQ 2 Glorantha books are practically statless,and Moon Design (who publish HQ these days) is keen to point out you can use any system with them. The authors of the recent MRQ2 books worked with Moon Design and Stafford to get the magic systems and HeroQuest rules inline with HQ2, as well as the background and cults info. While your Gloranthafan may have thier own preferences, I prefer HQ2 but MRQ2 is a close second, the general conscensious these days is that as long as you are happily playing in Glorantha, system doesn't mater :)

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  21. I mentally lumped such non-D&D products as the recent revisions of T&T, the fan made re-boot of Star Frontiers and the Frontiersman fanzine, and the old-school pastiche of Encounter Critical in with the OSR.

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  22. MERP did indeed go poof after the ICE bankruptcy (in fact, MERP via Sauron - I mean Tolkien Enterprises - was the reason for the bankruptcy). However, ICE re-emerged from the ashes within a few years and has been doing well ever since. Every version of Rolemaster is available in some form from the web site. Space Master and the new HARP round out their rpg line.

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