[As a quick off-topic preamble, I am ridiculously proud of the title of this post.]
While statistics tell me that apparently the best way to draw pageviews to my blog is to do nothing and let it stagnate in days-old posts, I’m afraid that that, in and of itself, is not a viable long-term approach to a successful blogging experience. So I am forced to make comment on some recent events. Namely, the upcoming release of the Dungeons & Dragons Starter Set, scheduled for September 7. And I would just like to comment and how much that description has sparked my imagination already. Group adventure material? Several different character races? 6 polyhedral dice? (Well, at least they have a little bit of Gygaxian verbosity in there, considering, you know, dice are polyhedral kind of by definition. But that’s just the mathematician in me talking.)
So yeah, Wizard$ of the Coa$t (man, it’s so much easier to do that with T$R) have recently decided that the only good products, or at least the only products which will sell, are old products. Along with that Starter Set, which harkens back to the classic Basic Set as compiled by Frank Mentzer, they have plans to release a Castle Ravenloft product and have already put out a book bearing the title Tomb of Horrors. On the latter I have little to say, aside from the fact that it apparently has absolutely nothing to do with its namesake. Of the former, I will note that the original Ravenloft was one of the first, if not the first, published modules that was heavily based on a plot rather than a mere dungeon crawl, with actual developed characters and motivations and possibly even roleplaying (well, as much as is possible to cram into a 32-page or so module). So the natural way to pay homage to this classic is of course to release Castle Ravenloft as a mother-effin’ board game.
Sometimes WotC can be seen on their widow’s walk gazing out into the sea for hours on end, praying that the point will return.
So that’s that for classic modules. But what about this Red Box thing? I personally have very mixed feelings about this. Trollsmyth seems excited at the prospect that the new set might attract older gamers who will then be led down the rabbit hole into the OSR. I’m not so sure. One of the problems facing the OSR is the general lack of coherency. Note that this isn’t a problem just in and of itself, it is actually a very good thing in many respects, but for purposes of attracting converts, it is. There is no hub around which we all gather, but merely a hodge-podge collection of blogs and products with, very broadly speaking, similar philosophies with respect to gaming. Some (such as myself) might stumble upon one of these sites and find themselves intrigued, clicking around until they are following [quick check-up on my OSR bookmarks folder] 34 blogs and playing, or at least wanting to play, one or two old school products themselves. I believe the majority, however, will be overwhelmed with the shotgun approach the OSR has towards its public face.
Which is totally OK. If it were any different, it would not be the OSR we all know and love. Dragonsfoot is the closest thing we have to a communal hub, and that is fine. That’s what we are. It is very difficult to market the OSR to those who are not already in the know, and it will always be until we have some product that is fairly consistently on the shelves in gaming stores alongside D&D and World of Darkness.
On the other hand, it may be that we underestimate the kids these days. While it is true that many of the people that make up the current OSR grew up with the Mentzer Red Box or earlier games, this is not a requirement to be a successful old school roleplayer. Take me for example. I am young (19), particularly by OSR standards. Many in the OSR seem to believe that the only people who love old school products are old grognards who grew up with those games and only know better because they weren’t spoon-fed all the newfangled shite that WotC has been putting out. But this is my Red Box.
The 3rd Edition Dungeons & Dragons “Adventure Game.” And it sucked! It came with about 8 pre-generated characters, and rules to bring them all the way up to level 2 (Level 2! In 3rd Edition! That’s 14 encounters, by the book!) There was one poster-sized foldout map that had a dungeon on one side, and a blank grid on the other. There were six supplied “adventures,” which were all just monsters set up in certain places within the dungeon where the PCs could come and kill them. There were no rules of character creation. The grid-map and the little counters that came with it cemented in my mind for years that D&D should be played with miniatures on a grid, and combat could not possibly be played out any other way.
But I loved it! There was a blank dungeon map that had all the same rooms as the fold-out version, and I would make copies of it and key it in so many times. I created dungeons, towns, I believe I even did a tavern once, all with the exact same layout, just with different monsters. When I later got the three core rulebooks, I simply added new monsters from the Monster Manual. Never traps though. For some reason, to this day, I am utterly incompetent when it comes to setting up traps.
But eventually, I grew out of this. When reading through the books (and yes, I read through those books cover to cover, even the Skills and the Feats section, something for which I would never have the patience or time today), I was promised that I could do anything I wanted, that I could write adventures any way I wanted. But for my ideas to work, I would often find that they required something very specific to be done with the rules, requiring either a very specific combination of powers or spells, or in the case of campaign building, specific races and classes that had to be included or the game would become “unbalanced.” I grew increasingly frustrated with not being able to do what I wanted because of the rules.
Somewhere along the line, probably during one of my early forays into researching the history of the hobby (I am kind of obsessed with knowing the origins of everything I am interested in), something clicked, and I realized that just because there are rules, does not mean that I have to play by them. This is the mindset that ultimately led me down the road into the OSR, which is filled with likeminded people who often change or completely ignore rules to fit their campaigns. I became, as a result of my own personality and the constrictiveness (constriction?) of WotC’s rules, a 19-year-old grognard.
So I believe that, for people with a certain personality, they will find a way into RPGs. If that way happens to be WotC’s latest tabletop MMORPG that happens to be called Dungeons & Dragons, that’s fine. If they are the type of person who would prefer the old school, they will find the old school. As long as the published D&D products inspire just enough to get people excited about endless possibilities, while simultaneously stifling that excitement with the rules as written, the OSR will have initiates.