So I was reading old OSR posts, articles and online essays recently and came across this little gem at The Escapist wherein the author made the comment,
"If the retro-clone creators are the "engineers" of the movement, the bloggers are its "philosophers." They provide the rationale behind the rejection of modern rules sets and in favor of the hobbyist approach to gaming that they believe harkens back to its earliest days. It is here that controversy often arises, since the opinions of many old school bloggers are seen -- rightly -- as a challenge to the verities of the modern hobby, especially its increasing commercialization and detachment from its own history."
You could have knocked me over with the proverbial feather. "Philosopher" of the OSR. How many days and nights, months, years even, had I struggled inwardly with what role I and my blog played in relation to gaming generally and the OSR specifically? I had even come to the conclusion that I had been basically "wrong". That my struggle was naught but the inevitable pushback against the new wave of gaming and the personal journey of release and acceptance that the gaming past is past and the new gaming world had arrived.
The trouble was I never felt it. I never fully felt at peace with this acceptance. I was still plagued by gaming angst of a better world we were surrendering in favor of a hollow, plastic coated future imitation. Sorry, but there it is.
Now, here was this 2009 essay coming along like a gentle breeze of the recent past, laced with the hint of exotic spices and fond memories. I was a "philosopher" of the age. I had never really intended that, in fact had actively noted my embarrassment that all I did on my blog was philosophize, theorize and justify the reasons the old was worth preserving and contained, as a truth, the real heart of the hobby.
As you can tell, by my sporadic blogging efforts as of late, that despite my best efforts I can't maintain my interest in the new age. I post once or twice and then lose interest. I have tried to enter the ranks of the OSR engineers, started several websites to put my creations out there, adventures, races, classes, rules variations, etc. But none of them got off the ground--that is just not my forte'. So, like it or not, I'm guess Maliszewski was right--I am just an OSR gaming philosopher.
So ... What the heck does that imply? I mean I'm playing D&D Next (5e to most of the rational world) in a weekly game now, and busy working on my campaign world and the next adventure. Aren't I just a one of the apparently many, happily reformed OSR grognards? Happy that 5e tried to at least nod towards old school? Happy that the OSR made real change? That 5e happened at all?
Well ... No. I have looked back on my time playing 3.5, 4 and now 5e and frankly each experience was about equal. There was I time I had fun playing 4e, and 3.5. Even Pathfinder. But each of them left me wanting, and none lasted more than a year or two. And then I was left with a stack of new, very expensive books, a gaming group that was all wrapped up in the new game--many never even having heard of AD&D at all--and wondering what the hell I was doing.
None had the real magic. None had the old heart and spirit of my time spent with AD&D.
Meaningless notalgia? Saudade? Sehnsucht?
To be truthful, I don't know. I am more than aware that those suffering from nostalgia, see the longed for past with rose colored glasses. We pine only remembering the good and not the bad. All the angst I experienced in "the good old days" over the yellow journalism of the 80's, the Satanic Panic that made members of my church burn their D&D books and forced me through no small vale of true moral torture as I chose to hang on to the hobby I loved despite the best efforts of the morality/spirituality police. Also the deep longing I felt as a teen to leave this gray dismal existence for the much brighter, magical and seemingly real existence of my fantasy worlds. The friends who seemed eternal at the time, best bosom comrades who I felt were the center of my universe that, slowly, one by one, got picked off by life's hardships and faded away into my past; the few that remain, now only reaching out with the occasional distant annual, or less, email. My teenage years from 12 to 24 were a time of vapid preoccupations, all consuming passions, whirlwind social crashes and explosive burns. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. I most decidedly do NOT romanticize those years. I made lots of mistakes, my friends did too, and it very literally killed some of us. I would not want to live those years again, except only perhaps to fix some of those broken hearts and lives--mine and others. They are years tinged with regret, bittersweet pain, and yes, fond memories.
But our actual gaming. Dungeons & Dragons. Advanced Dungeons & Dragons to be exact. That was something special. I don;t know of bad memories associated with the actual game. That was what made the moral crisis of the 80's so difficult for me. Here was this amazing, liberating, inspiring, soul filling purpose. This creator of dreams, that drew the best from within us and pulled us together--that was incredible. Yes, I vacillated back and forth over whether I was supposed to play or was committing some modern new "sin", as intimated by my church. But the game itself, the games we had--bad memories? No. Not only no, but hell no! Those were literally the best of times. Perhaps only closely matched by the times we LARPed without knowing we were doing it. We ventured into the woods and expansive parks surrounding our neighborhoods to pretend sword fight, cast spells, imagine goblins, orcs, dragons and fairies alive within them, and hoping against hope that we might stumble upon the gateway into the world of D&D for real. It's what led me to start reading Tolkien, Conan, Comic books, C.S. Lewis, Zelazney, Anthony, Aspirin, etc. etc. It filled my life with wonder--even when I was questioning the source itself. None of that was bad. None of it.
Why haven't I been able to recreate that? What is lost that seems cannot be found? And how much of it was the actual system of AD&D versus something endemic to the time? Was it the gaming culture that existed to support the game in those days? The culture of gamers that arose around it? Or something else entirely?