Thursday, April 18, 2013

When D&D Became Just Another Game

I haven't written in forever. The reasons are legion, but the main one is I've been lost in gaming land. I have tried numerous times to start an old school game and make it stick and it just hasn't worked for me. I'll admit that part of it is me. The students I game with in our gaming club are rabid Pathfinder devotees and so anytime I have gotten them to agree to an old school game I always get the sense that they are wishing we were playing something else. I also have been closely watching the 5e development, sincerely hoping that it would be "old school enough" for me and try to get the few local gamers here to jump from either 3.5, 4e, or Pathfinder to try something new.

 Recently I did play a rather decent session of 5e, and felt like it was closer to old school behind the screen, but still gave players option city and power under the hood. However trying to build a group that was willing to play it long term, let alone be excited about it was daunting. Which made me think more than once, if I was going to invest the effort to build on 5e why not put the effort in to build an old school group.

Of course this is nothing new for me. I've written endless blog entries about this very thing; and if there is one thing that defines my blog and my gaming experience over the past seven or eight years it is that I'm an old school gamer without a game. Well, not without a game so much (I'm pretty dedicated in my soul to AD&D); but more like a gamer without a gaming home. Which has led to numerous other entries on not having a decent group of gaming friends with which to game. And by decent, that is no judgment on the persons themselves. My usual gaming in these rather rural parts takes place in the school club which I run. Those kiddos are young, much younger than me. And forming a connection of "gaming friends" with adolescents that young just isn't very possible, let alone ethical. And then there are the other gamers in the area who are wedded to other gaming styles or other games, All Flesh Must be Eaten is very popular right now. There is an older group of teens that are playing a fairly active 3.5 game and one of them wants to run a 4e Encounters game, but they aren't interested in old school gaming much at all.

I've contemplated online gaming, by which I mean via Skype not like WoW. Or even play by post or email, but I've held back. I suppose that would allow me a game, which is better than nothing. But going to movies together, talking about the latest fantasy novel, comparing comic book collections or watching Star Trek reruns together just doesn't quite happen with online gaming friendships.

So, yeah. I'm part of my own problem. I'm looking for the perfect situation. And that just hasn't happened like it did for me all those years ago when I got my first Moldvay Box Set. I can't say I was the best gaming friend to have myself over the years. I took a long hiatus from gaming from about 23 to 35. And I was very out of the loop until I was about 33. Of course by then most of my old gaming buddies had moved on with their lives too. Now, I've been trying to recapture the magic for the last 9 years or so. And really, when I look back I was 28 or 29 when I started noticing I was really missing it again. I wrote alot during those years and daydreamed even more. But what I noticed was that the magic was gone, and I missed it.

I have spent my entire time since I started this blog looking for it, and have not found it. That was until yesterday.

Yesterday I watched the Hobbit.

I know, I know. There are problems with the films in certain technical and accuracy respects. But faithfulness to canon is not what did it for me. To tell the truth I don't know what it was that did it for me. The Hobbit was always my favorite of the tetrology, but I'm not sure it was even that. Fellowship was a really good book too, and I watched all three previous movies, and they were good but not like this. I really don't know what it was/is. I have felt that same bittersweet longing in my chest long ago from about age 12 to 19 or so during my first years gaming. That feeling that I've been shown a magical world, and all I want to do is be there, live there, adventure there. It's a feeling that lodges deep in the breast, somewhere low down in the heart, and rests there with a poignant melancholia of a place I never will be, but oh so badly long to achieve. A magic so real, so tangible it is just right there if I could only just ... I don't know what. Tantalizingly out of reach it draws me with a strong power of enchantment into ... I don't know where.

That was the world I gamed in those many years ago, and our characters were an extension of us into this realm, so close, but yet so far. The Never-Never, The OtherWorld, The Dreamlands, The ... place I want to be.

It's been a long time since I've passed through that gateway. And whatever the faults of Peter Jackson's vision of There and Back Again I want to thank him for opening the window again for me. I haven't felt like this in forever and a day. It was what drew me to gaming. It is the reason I game. And as to what it means for my future ... I just don't know. I just don't want the feeling to go away.

It has helped me see something though. That at some point D&D just became another game for me. Not my D&D, the D&D of my youth, but the new D&D. In a market oversaturated with games, so many that the entire hobby appears water thin at times, I look at the shiny new books with D&D on the cover and it's like it's just another new game. I don't know when this happened for me. I look back now at the old games and something magical stirs, just a little bit. And what with WoTC making them so readily available now as downloads and reprints I can feel more than ever like they are still on the commercial shelf--even if it is only digitally. That does my heart very good and I shout a hearty thank you to them for this. And I also easily acknowledge there are many, many gamers that really like the new stuff. It will indeed become their old stuff. I'm not arguing old or new is better or worse here. This is an entirely personal diatribe. I wish I could get excited about these games like I was about the old ones. I really wish I could sit down with people playing the new games and feel the same way. The way I do now after watching the Hobbit and dreaming about it, playing scenes over and over again in my mind and heart, humming with the dwarves "Far over the misty mountains cold".

But I just don't. It's just me. I'm not blaming anyone else. Or it's just reality, time passing, age accruing on my quickly degenerating body and mind. It just is.

I will say this though. It got me writing on my blog today. And for those of you who occasionally still drop by when a post crops up. Thank you. I wish you were around so we could get together and game.