Sunday, October 9, 2011

Back in the day ...

There was one game. It was the game we all played. Not that others didn't try and break into the scene. Even the main game company was coming out with variations. But in the day I started it was with AD&D. Sure there was Basic and Expert, but they were "less of a game". At least it was in our eyes. AD&D was more expansive, filled with more possibilities--why play something that had less?

Gamma World got some table time, as did Star Frontiers. But not nearly as much. Top Secret once or twice. Space Opera, Rune Quest, GURPS, Champions, Shadowrun, Traveler, Marvel SuperHeroes, Call of Cthulhu, a tiny bit of Rolemaster, some Car Wars and we tried OGRE. They were all on the market. But what did we come back to? What was our collective world? It was AD&D. That was our game, and it was really the only one. We could tell even then which were the cheap imitations. Which ones were trying to make their own game different from but the same as AD&D. Everyone was following on the coat tails of a giant. And we could see through most of them. The ones we gave the most alternate play time, and it wasn't much, were non AD&D games. Gamma World mostly and Car Wars. But why play an inferior version of the fantasy game we all knew and loved? No, when it was fantasy it was AD&D.

So now, in this non-AD&D world, I look around and things haven't changed much. Still a bunch of copy cat games, variations on a theme and still no AD&D. Some new tricks have been introduced to the market. A few game changers, but not many. RPGs are the new board game. And like board games we are just reinventing the wheel. Over and over again. A board, some dice and a bunch of pieces. RPGs seem to be no different.

Maybe I'm stating the obvious, but aren't we all just trying to recapture the magic? Making our own variations because we can't play what we used to play. That wasn't the original purpose of the OGL. It wasn't was OSRIC was about or Swords & Wizardry either. At least not at first. They were supposed to be tools to publish materials for the original games. New adventures, new campaigns, new ideas that fit into the original model. Now? Well both Stuart Marshall and Matt Finch have both spoken to the fact that their clones have become something very different. They drive the market now. They have become an end unto themselves.

So look on the shelves now? Where is the game? What stands out above the rest? Nothing. It's like the game has disappeared and all that is left are the variations on a theme. It's like it never was. Everyone says, oh, but there are new and improved games. We've taken out the "fiddly bits" and cleaned up the contradictions, streamlined, rewritten, reorganized, re-re-re. Bullspit. They've erased it. It's gone and not a hint of it remains. Not even in OSRIC.

...   ...   ...   I have wondered if it's just the fact that it was the game I started with. I've wondered if it's just that everyone was playing that game. It's what all my gaming buddies preferred. And that I just went along with the crowd. If I could find a bunch of players right now playing say Tunnels and Trolls and they refused to play anything else that I would just jump on the wagon and play that. That would become the game, because it was what we are all into. It's the collective framework for our imaginings. But I can't really come up with any answers to that. Mainly because I don't have any gaming buddies.

I'm a convention organizer. I've got to keep over 20 different gamers happy. Offer something for everyone. Please the gaming masses. Now it's recurring at the hobby shop. Owner is more interested in me supporting the current editions and helping to organize weekly play for everyone else. Doesn't matter what I want to play. Matters what attracts everyone else. But in the end does it really matter what I want to play? I mean if a group can get together collectively and build a game the system is irrelevant isn't it? I mean in an ideal world if would be great if we all wanted to play the same game. But how often does that happen? Hasn't happened to me since the 80's.

My brother called me last night to tell me about his 4e session. Went 5 hours and very badly for the PCs. they went against all the signs in the Pyramid of Shadows, ended up with almost 3 party members dead and facing an ethical dilemma of alignment changing proportions. My brothers words? And remember my brother is a GM who has been fairly anti-4e for awhile; he was roped into the game by his players. Want to try and guess my brothers words on my answering service? "D&D is the best game ever!" He felt like it was one of the best sessions they have ever had! It was, in his more extended explanation when I returned his call, what D&D was all about. That kind of session was the kind of session he plays the game for. And he's technically playing a version he hates. Well, if you ask him now, he would say that he really doesn't hate it. He dislikes some of the combat mechanics, but he'll tell you now that he's making the game work. He's tried restricting races and classes and making other tweaks, but more and more he is playing the game as written and making it his own.

So in the end, when we all played AD&D back in the day, was it because it was the best game? Or was it because it was what we were all playing? Was it the game we played or the people we played with? What was it really? I know back in the day I didn't worry about systems, or editions or debates on which game was best. We just played. we tried new games and went back to the game we all had the most fun imagining within. It didn't matter that it was AD&D did it? It could have just as easily been GURPS or Rolemaster or whatever. Does 4e have problems? Yeah it does, so does Pathfinder and Castles and Crusades and Hackmaster. But am I going to be a stubborn ass and refuse to play what everybody else wants to play because I miss how things were back in the day? And if so, who's the real idiot here? Yeah ... me.

Not too long ago I thought about switching to 4e. About running a Wednesday night encounters game and playing 4e at the school club. I read through the books and got myself all in a sweating nausea over playing something I "didn't like". Despite the fact that I had played it less than two years prior and had some pretty good games with it. You know what switched my mind back then? Yeah, it was about a year after I started my blog. I was busily and successfully playing 4e and started my blog as a school club website to keep track of our games. Go ahead and read back to my 2008 entries. You can tell how much fun we were having. How much fun I was having. Does this sound like a guy who hated 4e? Sure there were things I didn't like, but we were having a good ole time. So what happened?

I'll tell you what happened. The OSR happened. Because for the first time I had begun reading about the old school movement, the rhetoric and the nostalgia and it hit a nerve within me. It brought up lots of good memories. It made me want the old days back. So I began thinking about maybe trying 1e again. And that seems to be when everything went to pot. I began to build myself as an OSR guy, and have been dissatisfied ever since. I feel like a gaming goth sitting around in the graveyard thinking about dead games. It's been depressing really. And I've spent the last couple of years wandering around from system to system, making my club members crazy, spouting old school rhetoric, trying to figure things out and feeling foolish thinking like I've got it when all that I've really got is my own tail.

I'll tell you one thing for sure. All this jazz about getting back to that feeling of being "back in the day" feels nothing like I felt "back in the day", when it was just me and a bunch of friends gaming the hell out of a game and telling stories to each other about our exploits. So I ask you, what was it really like "back in the day" and what are we all trying to recapture? 'Cause I for one aint found nothing yet but heartache and angst. And I'm getting a little sick of it all.

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