Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Seeking What Was Lost: Or What to do When Your Favorite RPG Goes Out of Print.

"Nothing in this world is forever.
But others may have found what you've lost."
Alexander "Ka Blog" Osias

After yesterday's blog post some might wonder what the heck will he say next. Given that the post was quite an emotional venting, it might be hard to follow up. But no, thanks to feedback from those out there in net-land I've been given food for thought.

First, we all know that Gary Gygax was a great man. Not the only great man of gaming, but he had the fortune of being thrust to the front for a pivotal period in the hobby's creation. He's not perfect, not of us are. But I did alot of thinking about Gary yesterday. And the funny thing I realized is that I didn't think about him too much when I was a younger gamer. I just gamed. In a way that's a shame. I could have learned so much more about him and his thoughts if I had taken the time. But I was too busy enjoying his game! See, 'cause what I was focused on then was not the industry, the creator of the game or even the larger gaming community. I was thinking about our next session. About my next adventure that needed prepping and about meeting the needs of my friend's and their many characters.

And that got me to questioning myself again--what was it that I really missed? Was it the game? Was it the foundational industry of TSR? Gary? No. It wasn't any of those things exactly. It was the shared community of friends that took place in an imaginary world that was driven by the one game we played. I asked myself if AD&D had never been and Steve Jackson had been the creator of RPGs would I be vapidly addicted to GURPS instead of AD&D? Very possibly. It could have been Tunnels and Trolls, Hero, or any other of a number of systems if they had been my intro to the hobby. It was AD&D by fortuitous circumstance. What really mattered is that me and my friends were getting together and experiencing an imagined world of magic and adventure. The game had become secondary, background, watermarked behind the vivid color of our our adventures. They were what was important.

Now, I will say that AD&D fit the bill for the kind of fantasies we enjoyed telling. It's impossible to know what came first the fantasies or the vehicle in which to have them. But somehow they achieved a certain synergy in our collective minds and AD&D became the chosen vehicle for us to tell our stories. But the other essential ingredient was the group of friends to game with. They were as important or more so than the game we chose to play. So truly, it's not what you game it's who you game with.

I now play with a variety of players. They come in all sizes, shapes, personalities, and preferences. Some I have really enjoyed gaming with. Some I most definitely have not. But running the club and managing so many groups makes member acceptance a higher priority than my personal preferences. I can't simply turn someone away because I don't like their gaming style, or behavior or personality. As a "teacher" of RPGs in the public school system it is my role to teach to all who come as long as they obey the rules. Honestly, at times this can be a chore, but in the end it's worth it. However there are those years and those groups that sometimes really click. We tell awesome stories together. Stories that get retold again and again and ascend in our minds to the status of legend. This has happened in OSRIC, in C&C, in Hackmaster, in Pathfinder, in 3.5, and yes, even in 4e. So those moments do come, and confirm for me it's not what you game it's who you game with.

So my favorite game has gone out of print. Call me silly, but I've been very loathe to let it go. Call me late because it happened over 11 years ago. The knowledge that it's actually not commerically supported in it's current form anymore hampered my enthusiasm. Yes, anyone can continue to play with their out of print books. Lots of people do. And that's fine. There are a number of excellent resources out there making new material that is very compatible with older systems. So you can find any number of new modules and supplements to play with, and tweaking a module to fit an older system is quite easy. But it doesn't quite work the other way around. Tweaking a clone to read exactly as an original core rulebook is a bit difficult. In fact it's illegal. So it's quite a bit harder to use the old books side by side with a new clone. As I've said before it's better to use all clone or all old print books. This has always caused me angst for some reason. I think I was connecting the real magic of an older system with the "books" and not the synergy. But I've begun to realize that it's not what you play it's who you play with. So if your favorite game goes out of print, don't sweat it. Keep your old books. All is not lost.

Fortunately there is the Old School Renaissance. The OSR is there for a number of reasons, not the least of which is to preserve older styles of play. However some might argue that it's prime prupose was to preserve those styles of play by creating systems which would allow continued production of new material and support for certain game styles. The OSR is also very closely related to the Indie game publishing scene. Scores of gamers are now releasing what might be called variants to old school games. Games that retain the spirit of the old school style, but are decidedly different in one or more ways. Many new games are also coming out that have at best vague connections to old school and are radically different in their approach and execution.

The fact is there are numerous options for players looking for what they may have thought was lost. And many of these games may exactly emulate what you were used to playing. The best of all most are absolutely free for download via the internet. True, some of the OSR has gone commercial, creating high quality clones and variants on old school themes. But either way the OSR is your solution when your favorite game goes out of print. Because not only are there now close recreations of just about every game earlier in print, there are also increasing fan and commerically produced supports for these games. All you need to do is hook up with an OSR game that fits your perferred style.

Now, it's very likely that if you are currently gaming when your game goes out of print you know this and are ready and prepared for what is coming. It is much more likely that you are, like I was, coming back to gaming after a hiatus. You want to play the game you left off with only to find the industry has bulldozed your magic woods a long time ago. You my even try the latest commercial version of the game bearing the title you're familiar with, whether it be Dungeons & Dragons, Traveler, or Runeqeust. Only to find that it's not the game you recall at all. Have no fear, the OSR is here. It is very likely that someone somewhere has reproduced a very close simulacra of your preferred game and that there is an avid fanbase producing support material still today.

Heavens bless the OSR!

The next step of course is to keep your gaming group alive, or to build a new one. That can be a little tougher. Especially for us adults. I have found that in most large cities you can always find a group of people willing to play an old school game--even if they be few. However, in smaller towns or rural areas it may be a bit harder. If you're lucky enough to find a hobby shop you can start there, but you may still struggle. I certainly have. You may have to step out of your comfort zone and play some play by post or email games. Maybe you can arrange a game by Skype, or use software like Maptools. There are a growing number of resources out there. I'm beginning to consider them myself even though I have always avoided these types of game environments. I prefer to game face to face at the same tabel with my friends. But it's better to have
Skype or email gaming buddies than no gaming buddies at all.

This last part however, is very important. Because once again it's not what you game it's who you game with. The people that you game regularly with are more critical to your game's success and your enjoyment than the edition or model. Now, I'm not gonna say that Edition doesn't matter at all. It does. I persoanlly have a very hard time with 4e, don't really like skill based systems and tend to game fantasy. So if you already know you like a certain version, iteration or edition of a game then finding a good group with a similar creative agenda is very important. In this too the OSR is improving. The OSR community is growing and reaching out more and more. So it is easier than ever to hook up with fellow OSR gamers. You just have to make the effort.

For you see, I'm really writing this for myself. If you read yesterday's post you might get the impression I'm so fed up and bummed with the situation that I'm gonna give up. Well, I can't do that. I always come back to gaming. And Old School gaming is where I thrive. What I really need is a good steady gaming group. The groups at school are great, but they are not feeding my need for a real close group of dedicated gamers. Longtime gamers that are interested in collective worldbuilding on an epic scale. It may take some time to find gamers like this near me. But I'm, gonna start looking. For Alexander's right, "Nothing in this world is forever. But others may have found what you have lost."
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