Monday, September 20, 2010

Reflecting on D&D - Sometimes you can't go back

This is not a retro-clone post, nor is it an old school post.  This is about the original games that so many games today get their inspiration from.

I was back in my home town over the weekend to visit my brother.  Grognardia's post was fresh in my mind and was something I was thinking about during the long drive from Chicago to Springfield.  We were meeting my parents, sister, and brother at the local mall, a mall that during the heyday of my D&D days was one of my FLGS.    Of course, the Waldenbooks was where I had bought so many books and dice was gone.  As was the B. Dalton's where I had bought my first set of clear dice.

In my home town, they are redoing the downtown area that had been busy in my youth and then died.  While it is nice to see it coming back one thing that I won't see back is "Belobrajdic's Book Store".  They were closer to me (Springfield was 30 miles away from Jacksonville), but they did not carry as much stuff.    Belobrajdic's ("bell-o-bray-dicks") did have Dragon magazine.  I eventually became a subscriber, but not for another 20 years almost.  I think my first issue was 85 and then I bought it as my meager job as a paperboy would allow.

Waldenbooks, B. Daltons, Belobrajdic's, and even Black's Hardware (for miniatures) all share something in common. All were places I connect with the Golden Age of D&D. And all are gone.

Today I spend my time and money at Games Plus.  A place I would mail order when the above stores would not carry something I wanted, like Eldritch Wizardry.   But what did this trip down memory lane teach me?

Well. Try as they might, and they do try very, very hard, the Clones just can't capture the same feeling of those early days. The Zeitgeist is gone.  I remember hearing a rumor that Belobrajdic's was going to stop selling D&D due to the "Satanic Scare" of the 80s.  You just don't get that these days.
Every book was something new, every purchase was tinged with anticipation and excitement of new worlds to explore.

Some of it isn't just Zeitgeist. Some of it is age and all that goes with that.  I don't have to save or anticipate anymore.  If I want a book I go buy it on my way home from work.  There is sits on my desk or game table till I get a chance to read it. Back then I got the S-series of modules and read them cover to cover all the time.

New games help.  Pathfinder and D&D 4 give me that thrill of the new.  Clones scratch my nostalgia itch.  But none really combine them all very well.

You can't go back to the Caves of Chaos anymore.  The monsters of old are gone and there are Eladrin, Tieflings, and Dragonborn in the Keep talking about needing Warlocks or Sorcerers to help them complete their quest.  Clerics talk about healing surges, druids spend more time in animal shapes and have forgotten the trees.   It is a new world out there full of change.  I can't bring back the old felling or the old D&D anymore than I can bring back the stores that contained those memories and books.

I might wax nostalgic, but I look forward to the next new purchase and the new worlds it will bring all the same.


Jagyr said...

I know what you mean. I've had trouble recreating the feelings I had when I first played the game. It's taken me a while to realize (and accept) that what I'm trying to do is recapture my childhood, which is impossible.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, you can't bring back that feeling when you were a kid playing D&D. It was a golden time. D&D was new, the books were full of something, wonder, excitement, I don't know.

I've looked over the clones, played a few but when I really want to try for that feeling I always go back to Mentzer's Basic/Expert. I ran a solo game using the Mythic Game Master Emulator and Gygax's Random Dungeon Generation tables from the 1e DMG with B/X and I have to say it came close. Even with THACO and races as classes it was fun. I posted a game recap where the party was wiped out in their second encounter and someone replied that it seemed a waste of time to roll up characters so weak and have them die so soon. But, you know, it was still fun. Breathing life into characters whose every decision and die roll was crucial, I loved it.

I still like and look forward to new games and the ideas the RPG community comes up with. 4E and the new Essentials line I find very interesting but if I do need to go back, I almost can just using the same old B/X stuff.

Probably is a moot point what your playing. Anytime you get some friends together and play it's fun no matter what game or system your using.


Al said...

I have to agree about reading the clones, and just not really recapturing that "ol lovin feeling".

However, something completely different happened when I took those books around and shared them with people (Swords & Wizardry and OSRIC, to be specific). People got *really* excited! These weren't all people currently playing 3.5 or PF or 4E, but also gamers who hadn't really done anything since the 80's.

Regardless, actually playing the retros for last couple of years does give me that "ol lovin feeling", or maybe safer to say that "new lovin feeling", as we don't really mine the old standard high fantasy tropes like we used to way back when, instead favoring the darker swords & sorcery and gonzo science fantasy aspects we didn't really indulge in too much back in the days of ToEE and Dragonlance.

Its tough to put into words, but I'm thinking that many of the "trappings" or "window dressing" that went along with D&D way back when may indeed be lost to the mists of time, but the rulesets (or rule styles?) themselves are just as vibrant, imaginative, and useful today as they've ever been.

Unknown said...

For me "that old feeling" was always about the new. Each new supplement was new and brimmed with excitement. It was discovering the unknown within the system that I enjoyed. I can still get that.
Its why I move on from the old games and onto the new editions as they come out. It's why I constantly peruse different game systems and pick the ones that catch my interest. As long as a system keeps coming out with new stuff for that edition I will stick with it, but once the well of new material drys up I move on.

5stonegames said...

I don't want to recapture the old feelings I had when gaming. Its 2010 not 1985 or 1990 after all.

What I want is more fun and the clones do that very well.

Simple games of imagination is all I want.

Trey said...

Your right, of course, in that its never "the same" but I do think nostalgia can enhance the gaming experience.

Listening to a favorite band from one's youth isn't a pointless, after all.

The Red DM said...

I have been spending the last year chasing the feeling I got from old school games, but have come to the conculsion its just not possible.

The old school games were not fun because of anything inherent to them; they were fun because we were young and gaming was brand new.

The Grey Elf said...

Gotta disagree on this one, Tim (but that's nothing new!) I think Labyrinth Lord captures and re-creates the feel of classic D&D brilliantly. I also think that it is, in fact, possible to go back.

When I ran my AD&D first edition game for my Friday group we had a blast, and all of us really got into it--even those who adore 3.x and 4e. We all felt like we'd been transported back to 1983 (even those who hadn't yet started playing in 83) and there was even talk about why we weren't playing Dio on the stereo.

My Age of Conan OD&D game isn't capturing the same spirit, but that's because none of us ever played OD&D before this. AD&D first edition, however, took us right back to our roots in every way.

Michael S/Chgowiz said...

Which is more important? The feeling one gets when shopping and reading a game, or the feeling one gets when sharing a game with others?

For me, if it were the former, then continuing to play the old games or the clones would let me down. For me, though, it's the latter. Sure, my clerics may not do "surges" and my wights or orcs may not be "tieflings", but then it's the worlds I spin and share with others that continue to make that "old magic" still have the stuff of excitement and fun.

Michael S/Chgowiz said...

@The Red DM - perhaps find people who share that excitement/love with you?

theredtable said...

completely agree with you. however, i wonder how much of it is actual desire for a simpler time, or the ever-clouding effect that nostalgia can have upon memories.

you know, i'm unsure if this is neither here, nor there, but i was watching 'no reservations', and mr.bourdain exclaimed that some of his favorite dishes were unattainable now that he's experienced them. i think he was driving at part of the wonder and mysticism of the experience is actually being on the forefront of something totally new and unknown. he said he could eat a million more of whatever it was he was feasting on, but ultimately, none would ever match to the very first time he put - at least in his mind - so much ambrosia to his tongue.

@Brandon - i totally agree. i think that we all want to go back to our childhood, or early teens when our money was geared toward games, food, desperately impressing girls and little else.

Gaming Ronin said...

Actually for me 4E has really recaptured a lot of the old feel for me. For me I went from killing monsters and taking their stuff to very complex number crunching and plot points. Which was fun at the time. But not how we originally played D&D.

Now going back to the thrill or the adventure has captured a lot of that old beer and pretzels sword swinging that we used to do.

So I guess its all about which those old memories your reliving. For me the having a fun night to look forward to with my friend. Its making a return at my gaming table.

Its the kind of fun the gets retold between games. My players talk about last weeks game like it was something they really did. And razz each other all week for silly or funny mistakes in game.

For me that was the feel of my early days of gaming. And its back.