Thursday, August 6, 2015

End of an Age

The time has come for me to seriously consider retiring Classic RPG Realms. I started the blog initially as a gaming club blog and as a vehicle for OSR exploration. The bulk of my entries have been about me philosophizing about gaming, theorizing about gaming styles, and figuring out what is and is not old school and, perhaps more importantly, what my personal gaming is all about.

Now I feel as if I'm in a different era of my gaming life. I'v learned a few things about gaming, my own preferences and styles, and people in general. Allow me to summarize some of what I fell now ...

  • I am less "purist" about my gaming than I thought I was. What matters most is that you are gaming and that you are having fun.
  • Old School is relative to the person discussing it. I have come to realize that style and preferences are more relevant to what you like to play than fixed categories.
  • Gaming is the most awesome hobby in the world. Admittedly a personal view, but if I have learned anything since I started gaming back in 1981 it is that gaming in no small part has made me who I am, has shaped my life and my personality, has given me so much more than I could ever count, has lifted me up, challenged me, tore me down, made me think harder-deeper-more creatively, introduced me to thousands of incredible people, given my imagination a home, given me a place to truly be me, allowed me to live my dreams, and in short saved me from existential oblivion more than once. There are many people in the world, and they each have their hobbies, their past times, their passions, their meaning, their purpose. For me it has been gaming. 
  • I love gaming in general, and there aren't many games I would simply refuse to play.
  • That said, I have rather rarefied tastes. Luckily for me my "strange brew" intoxicates a growing minority of gamers out there. I am into the weird, the unusual, the outre', supernatural horror, the macabre and the fantastique. The growing group of gamers includes devotees of Dungeon Crawl Classics, Crypts & Things, Into the Odd, Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea, Lamentations of the Flame Princess, Bloody Basic, and the like. I read HP Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith, Jules Verne, Poe, Lewis Carrol, RE Howard August Derleth, Steven Brust, Lord Dunsany, George MacDonald, Arthur Machen, Clive Barker, HG Wells, Jack Vance, M.R. James, Laird Barron, JL Borges, Frtiz Leiber, Manly Wade Wellman, Bram Stoker, Shelley, Lord Byron, Ray Bradbury, John Keats, WB Yeats, Abraham Meritt, Michael Moorcock and the list could go on, but you get some idea. But these authors are not your "typical" authors of speculative fiction. This, in turn, flavors my preferences to games as much as the games themselves. I have appreciated retro clones, variants and straight clones for their presentation of gritty "old school" style art that embodies many of the fantasy strains cultivated by the authors mentioned above. 
  • I am also incredibly nostalgic about my gaming past. There is simply something about those older editions--which for me encompasses Original, Classic & Advanced editions of Dungeons & Dragons (along with Gamma World 1st edition, Arduin Grimoire ('77-'78), Call of Cthulhu 1st to 3rd editions, Classic Traveller, et al) that evokes a powerful imaginative affinity within me. Those games and I are one, we are cut of the same cloth. I am uncertain if it is mechanics, art, tone, organization, writing style, or the gestalt, but some magic they contain will always make me preferential and deferential to them. Ask me which games are "best" and one of them will likely come to the fore. 
  • Rules lite is as much an ethos as it is a rules set. We can safely say games like GURPS and Rolemaster are not exactly Rules Lite. However, a game like AD&D, is not as light as say a bare bones d20 game or even Castles & Crusades. But games that are not so "light" can play by an ethos that encourages DM fiat, flexibility, creative rule making, and a "make it possible" mindset that seems faster and freer than some games that are "streamlined" but stricter in their ruleset. A lot of how light and fast a game is depends on the style of the GM and the social contract between GM and players.
  • I like being scared. I mean who "likes" being scared, right? The whole point of terror is that you do not like it. But fear is an element of adventure. We cannot have adventure without danger, the unknown, death and damnation. Their has to be something "at stake". When I am afraid that my character may die it lends a reality to the game unattainable by other means. I thus believe my job as a good GM is to scare you. You should feel the heart pounding, hair raising, goose fleshing fear that comes with facing nearly insurmountable odds. It may seem like this is an adversarial type of play, but ultimately it is required at the heart of good adventure (for me anyway). 
  • Friends are more important than the game. Who you play with becomes more than a partner on your adventures, or someone who enjoys your portrayal of the world. They become comrades in this life as well. You will share triumphs and defeats with them in game and out. They will come to mean more to you than the paper their character is written on, much more--and this is as important a part of gaming as gaming itself. Of course, true friends share things in common with us, and for gamers this means the game is often the most important thing. If you can understand this paradox, you "get it".
  • The current state of a gaming is an outgrowth of Gary Gygax's vision expressed in his book Role Playing Mastery.  He foresaw that there would be those who, as a part of "mastering the game" and role playing games in general, would begin to create their own gaming material and eventually their own games. Today we are inundated with games, settings, adventures and supplements of all types. The vibrant age that was initiated with the Original's versions' injunction "don't let us all do all the imagining for you" is upon us. It's a glorious age, and one we should all revel in.
  • Lastly, I have spent too much time now debating systems and editions and old school and new. I have felt for some time a need to move on to sharing some of what I create, and less to opining about what is or isn't gaming. I also see so much in the gaming world to celebrate as of late. And by "late" I mean in the past 10 years. I want to start doing just that.
Thus I come to a point where I consider whether maintaining my current blog is a help or a hindrance to my new efforts. I could keep the blog as is and simply do a retro-fit. I could shift my design and emphasis to something new. This would perhaps cause the least disruption to my readers and be the "easiest". However, it does cause me some angst to think of trying to fit new wine in old bottles as it were. Perhaps my new creative endeavors would be better served in a new platform, with a fresh start? I am not certain as of yet but would love to hear any input you have.


Randal Glyph said...

I left a comment a few hours ago in your review of Hackmaster Basic. You've mentioned the term: saudade, and all kinds of angst about a sense of never being able to recover a lost rules-light version of AD&D from your youth.

It may be heresy to say that I found much in Gygax's behavior and authoritarian claims directed against his own fans to be so manipulative, bullying and dishonestly disagreeable that I defected from AD&D around age 15, but never found any systems that could replace it effectively. I wanted something to replace it that didn't exist, so I tried to create my own game system. I guess at the age my experience hadn't gelled enough to be able to manage the complexities, or figure out how to make a more manageable and rules lite system. It never worked, and each attempt was a shattering experience of being able to visualize much that could never be achieved into a workable system. If that is saudade, or something else, I've experienced it.

There is a lot to like about older school-inspired game styles. Like the original dungeons and dragons attitude of taking what you want and making your own operating rules for your worlds, the less rigidly orthodox schools in old school, or Do It Yourself Gaming have a lot of appeal for me. Even back in the day, the change to AD&D was seen as a huge betrayal of what we'd probably now call old school, by not just some gamers, but by most of TSR's original staff. Rob Kuntz quit around 1976, Tim Kask went his own way, not sure about Tom Wham, but Kuntz gave a good interview on Grognard Games on the subject of the mass exodus of TSR staff. Know any more about these issues? I think they'd be fascinating reading. Also, what you liked about the various iterations of D&D in comparison to each other. I haven't had a chance to do more than scratch your blog posts, but I'm working my way through them for gaming philosophy and game reviews. Many of these posts are very good! Don't just walk away from this endeavor. If you feel a need for a breather, or a change of pace, keep this site and add whatever changed/ unchanged approach to the newer postings, please.

-Thanks again, Glyph

Chris Jones said...


I just found your comment, and apologize that I'm just getting to you now. Thank you for your kind and encouraging words. They are fortuitous. I had just read a blog post on Cyclopeana questioning if there were any old school blogs still active. Well, of course there are, and many do a better job than I at old school commentary and support. But it made me wonder if my thoughts were still relevant and coherent enough in this "new" old-school age to continue to be put out there.

Interesting as well that you made mention of Rob Kuntz. Rob afforded me a rare chance to visit with him over the phone one evening and pick his brain on games, gaming and the real world of what early D&D was about. He didn't get personal about individuals, he's too respectful for that, but you could tell his visions of gaming was different from Gary's and came away from our conversation with a different perspective on the history of RPGs and their real potential.

Lately, I have been giving a lot of thought to where I am "at" in regards to gaming. And you are right, I have been at the least taking a breather as it were. Reorienting myself and trying to figure out where I am heading. I have been unable, due to life constraints to keep a game going for more than a few months lately and this too has made me pensive about where gaming, which means so much to me, fits in with my life right now. Every time I dive back in I find myself going in circles about what version, edition or clone captures what was lost for me, and I needed time away to not simply re-enter the same old cycle that is so often reflected in my blog posts.

So thank you. Thank you for taking the time to read, for reflecting on my leavings and encouraging me to keep at it. I don;t doubt that you might start seeing me and Classic RPG Realms move forward with a new focus and a new face.



Mark Bevier said...

Hi Chris,

I just found your blog and it's been a pleasure to read. I didn't even play any old school D&D, but I appreciate and agree with many of your opinions on what makes the hobby great. I've especially enjoyed your HackMaster views. To my mind, the 5th edition HackMaster really isn't getting as much attention as it deserves (especially the count up combat).

What are you thinking about moving on to? If you were going to run a game of HackMaster 5e, I would definitely enjoy reading more post-game write ups of the sessions along with lessons learned.

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