Thursday, December 31, 2009

Looking Ahead

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.


  1. The Renaissance is getting bigger, not smaller, which is great.

    The Old School as Nostalgia is already happening with Green Ronin and their Dragon Age box sets. And the game is pretty cool, which makes it even better.

    I also love the trend of science fantasy, though I would prefer not to get too crazy with it.

    The Man out of Time is one of the fantasy tropes I do not miss at all. I hope it doesn't infiltrate too much into otherwise normal products.

    Overall, I like your list. Here's to a great New Year!

    Also, didn't know if you'd be interested in linking to my blog:

  2. I wonder.

    There seems to be a quiet Pulp revival happening in Young Adult, with freebooting world building, wide on vision, low on pedantry; the best example being the Mortal Engines series.

    What's intriguing is that the interest is in exploring new worlds, rather than world building per se. Nobody cares whether or not the carnivorous cities could work in engineering times.

    It's about the joy of "What if...?" rather than "How could...?"

    To me this resonates with the old style gaming you espouse.

    I suspect that the commercial snag with lite rules systems is that they are... well... lite. How are publishers going to make money out of them? I'm not sure that this is a problem, however, since there are plenty of good roleplaying games knocking around for free - or cheap - on the Internet. Publishing itself is changing.

    So, good luck in the new year. I shall continue you to reconnect with my roots by reading your blog.

  3. I do think the introduction of 4E did give an inadvertent boost to the OSR. I think a lot of people playing 3.5 took the release of 4E as an opportunity to evaluate the games they were playing, and what they liked about them, and what they didn't like. Some "moved on" to 4E, some stayed right where they were with 3.5, and others took the opportunity to go try the older versions of the games that they loved. I know over the past two years I've gone back quite a bit to playing 1st edition AD&D, and I've loved every moment of it.

  4. IMO, Castles & Crusades is the torch-bearer for pre-3rd edition style D&D. Troll Lord Games is a respectably-sized company with products in game stores.

  5. I never really thought about it, but although I've ready plenty of Man out of Time books in my day, playing myself or any other modern world person going to a fantasy world was never all that appealing to me.

    Unless we are going there to hunt unicorns. If so, count me and my 12-gauge in!

  6. I think that Green Ronin's Dragon Age product may be pretty close to what you suggested we'd see in your predictions last year. To be sure, the box set being released in a month or so is composed of two 64 page books and thus doesn't strictly meet the criteria. On the other hand, consider the following:

    1. Green Ronin is certainly a major RPG player, with market presence on par with Steve Jackson Games.
    2. Dragon Age presents a fast playing class and level ruleset, with the goal of acquiring "new players while bringing back those alienated by recent trends in roleplaying."
    3. Chris Pramas, the author, said the following: There is a tendency these days to look back on the games of the 70s and early 80s and pat ourselves on the back about how far we've come from such primitive beginnings. I felt like there were still important things we could learn from those games, lessons perhaps forgotten over the years to the detriment of the hobby. With Dragon Age I was trying to take inspiration from the old school while still creating a modern design. I guess you might call it a neo-retro approach.
    4. I'd bet that if one cut out the voluminous artwork, fancy formatting, and introductory adventure, the entire game - including setting details - could be fit within 64 pages.

    So you may have been correct after all, James.

    Happy New Year!

  7. I think it's not unreasonable to think that predictions 3 and 4 might even extend to major publishers. As we all know WOTC is releasing Dark Sun as its next campaign setting and a lot of the Dune-esque elements of that setting suggest the possible start of a trend.

    I'm not certain of it but I think we'll see pulpier elements as well. WOTC has established even more of a trend with that, given Eberron's stylings followed by the unremitting grit of Darksun. I don't know that this will be a change of product so much as an acknowledgment of the popularity of the pulp genre, but I feel there is a definite possibility of seeing something in Dragon or the like.

  8. I'm with Brunomac on that Man out of Time is not a genre I am interested in playing. But the great thing about the current age is that ninche markets have room to thrive.

    We did some Man out of Time as kids after reading Joel Rosenberg's "The Sleeping Dragon". Mostly we fought about who's charisma or inteligence would be what.

    It was explored briefly in about a 5 page module in the pages of Dungeon circa maybe 1989. A modern American is thrown into a D&D world and the PC try to save him. He even had a calculator watch in true 80's fasion.

    I also think it might have been touched on in the 2E DMG, i vaugly remember reading something about converting yourself to a PC, something about a player's charachter self might get a level of fighter if the player had a black belt in martial arts.

  9. From ERB's the Gods of Mars

    “The sensation of moving rapidly through these dark passages was far from reassuring. I knew not at what moment I might plunge headlong into some terrible pit or meet some of the ghoulish creatures that inhabit these lower worlds beneath the dead cities of dying Mars. There filtered to me a faint radiance from the torch of the men behind – just enough for me to trace the direction of the winding passageways directly before me, and so to keep me from dashing myself against the walls at the turns.”
    (GM, XIV, p.127)

  10. I was excited to read about a Dragon Age Box Set comming out as well. I stumbled on this extensive review

    And it looks like the game is very setting specific. (charachters pick from a list of setting specific backgrounds, ect) which I guess makes sense when you are licensing a video game, but i was hoping for something more generic.

    i do appreciate a seperate box set for each level of play 1-5, 6-10, ect.

    what a shame that a quick play PDF copy wasn't included with the computer game, that might have been a great way to get folks to give table top a try.

  11. As someone who has never been very successful at keeping his Science out of his Fantasy, I'm quite pleased with prediction #3.

  12. I'm really looking forwards to #3! I have been looking forward to more of #3 for some time now - more so, settings with Swords & Sorcery & Super-Science!

    If cannot tell, I'm a Thundarrian-styled Gamma World fanboy. :P