All of the online discussion I have followed the last several months about Old School/4e/New School gaming got me to thinking.
My first exposure to Dr. Who was Tom Baker, Doctor number 4. As with most other fans of Doctor Who, my favorite is the one I first encountered.
With some exceptions, I think this informs a lot of the old/new debate. That to which we are introduced first, in a successful, and non-biased way, will tend to be our favorite. When a game or TV series is new, one tends to have a different perspective to those who come in on the middle.
For those of us who remember the enormous impact Star Wars (That’s episode IV to you young wippersnappers.) had upon our childhood/teenage years, that movie had a bigger impact than others, because it was first. Those of use who lived the movies in their historical order have a different perspective than our children who were toddlers & infants when the re-makes of the first three movies prepared the way for the final three movies. (Do you remember all the speculation in the 80’s about either a total of 6, 9, or 12 movies?) The special effects got better, and some argue are what carried the final three movies.
With D&D, my story begins with “Basic D&D”, a Blue box with a dragon on it. It had some funky dice in it. I still have the dice, they are chipped & worn. The d20 is nearly a sphere. the d4 is the only one I still use, but it is hard to read. It was an introduction to D&D and featured only up to level 3. The label of “Basic” led my brother and I and our eventual crowd of fellow players in our school to consider it old and poorly done. We were 13/14 years old in 1978, give us a break! When we got wind of Advanced D&D, that is where it was at. We were children of the space age, the children of the baby boomers, “Newer Is Better” was what we were all about.
The hardcover books, cool illustrations and better quality paper and type led us to feel that AD&D was the real deal. We bought all the books as they came out and read them with delight and quickly incorporated them into our games. At first $12.00 then $15.00 for a book, that was a lot of money for a teenager mowing lawns. At $10.00 a pop, and only 3 lawns, it took time to earn that money.
I think the more one has invested in time and expense also impacts which version one prefers.
I tend to favor the older rules since those are what I know so well, and have laid out a chunk of cash already. It is hard enough to get an opportunity to play, why shell out money for a new set of rules that change the way you have always done things?
I have never played 3e or 4e. I have not even taken the time to flip through the manuals at the local game shop. It does not grab my interest. Now, if I were 13 again, 4e, and possibly 3e, would be all I could easily find, and would probably think newer is better.
I have more of an emotional attachment to AD&D, but it is more than that. It is familiar, and I could play AD&D at a moment’s notice. When I hear all about feats, skills, multi-class, and other such terms, they are either new terms, or used differently than I learned them. There is a whole new jargon to learn.
I also played more than just D&D, but D&D is the one that capture my imagination, and the one that I think about the most. Rarely do I think of something and make a mental note, “Hey, that would be good to use in Boot Hill.” Partly, I think it is because the medieval style fantasy settings with their magic and other things that can never happen do more to capture my imagination. Don’t get me wrong, I am a big Science Fiction fan, but I am of a generation that has seen so many things become reality, such as a computer on every desk, and more than one computer in many homes. I remember when the year 2000 seemed a long way off and we wondered what it would be like. There are lots of neat gadgets, cable is common and relatively inexpensive, and via the net, one can communicate around the world in an instant. Those changes have taken the edge off the unknown of the future. While it is not yet reality, many things are not far from becoming reality. Although we still do not have a flying car in every garage.
This is similar to computer games. Sports games and things like The Sims and Second Life do not interest me. Why pretend to do and be something that I already do everyday? Well, sports games do not interest me because I don’t like some of those things in reality, and the ones I do like are more fun in reality. Now fighting the alien hordes, or exploring the depths of space are things I will never do. The same is what hold my interest with D&D — fighting an orc invasion, gaining a treasure, or casting spells to overcome a challenge.
The appeal of D&D is that we can be the hero and be admired by our fellow players for how we play our heroes and their exploits. We can do the things that only action heroes in big budget movies can do, all for a few dollars here and there.
The rules each of us choose are the ones that best suit our needs and the group(s) with which we play. For me it is AD&D, and all the OD&D and other retro-clones make more source material available for lots of ideas. More rules-neutral resources would have more traction for the broadest base of players. If you are a player/DM with a strong grasp of your chosen rules framework, you can take any resource and run with it.
I must be honest and label myself a grognard. I do not need lots of new monsters and magic, when I have not managed to run into all the creatures in the original Monster Manual during all the games I’ve played in over the years, let alone MMII, FF, etc. What I need are ideas to help me be a better gamer, either as a player or DM. The fight over old/new school is like the old vi/emacs debate. Everyone is right and everyone is wrong. Be honest about your ‘drothers, but get on with it and get to the common ground of tips, tricks, ideas, etc.
Those who point out that having fun is the most important part are right. We need to “man up” and not be like the dreaded little league coach or parent who thinks they know it all, and ruin it for the kids. It’s just a game after all! Kids have to pay to play, it’s not like they’re being paid millions of dollars just to play a game.
I must admit watching sports does not catch my interest, but RPGs and D&D in particular do. But I try not to be annoying with my interest of RPGs the way many sports fans I know who are annoying with their constant talk of stats and legendary feats. I’m just glad the gamers don’t get wrapped up in the numbers and the old war stories of games past. 😉