Sunday, March 4, 2018

Chasing (Dungeons and) Dragons

A large part of the appeal of the OSR is built on nostalgia. Players look to relive those halcyon days of their gaming youth. Simpler rules for simpler times. Yes, there's a lot to be said from a theory and design point of view for a minimalist take on rules design, but I think to deny the wistful gaze into the past we often feel when playing these games is foolish. 

The past few months have been very rough for me on a personal level. I won't go into detail, because that's not what this blog is about. I genuinely long for the simpler times in my life. For the days when I got home from school, pulled out my Rules Cyclopedia and my graph paper and just went at it for hours on end. It was a simpler time. Now, I'm an adult. I have the responsibilities and concerns of an adult. The OSR lets me at least remember those simpler times, to hold a time capsule of my own youth bound up in a  print-on-demand cover.

But somehow, I can't go home again. Instead of ignoring or house ruling something and going with it, I break it all down to its smallest parts and try to figure it out. Analyze, study, play test. It's something it never was back in my youth: It's work.

I was looking at my bookcase today when this all hit me. I own physical copies of several versions of old school D&D or versions that would qualify as retro-clones: Labyrinth Lord, Swords & Wizardry Complete, Swords & Wizardry White Box, White Box Fantastic Medieval Adventure Game, Lamentations of the Flame Princess, Adventures Dark and Deep, Dungeon Crawl Classics, Basic/Expert D&D, Astonishing Swordsmen and Sorcerers of Hyperborea, Rules Cyclopedia, and a few others I'm sure I'm forgetting. Hell, I even wrote one myself: The Hero's Journey Fantasy Roleplaying. I stopped counting once I hit the teens.

Why? Whenever I look at my shelf, I always default to either Labyrinth Lord, White Box Fantastic Medieval Adventure Game, or The Hero's Journey. So why do I keep buying retro-clones? I'm not a collector by any measure. Part of it, I know, is a way to peek into the minds of other game designers. But I can do that just as easily with a PDF. Part of it is also, undoubtedly, a desire to show support for other publishers with my wallet. We're all in it together, after all.

But as I starred at that shelf, I knew the real answer. I'm chasing that twelve year old kid I used to be. Problem is, I just can't leave well enough alone. I can't just game. It's become work. It's become this kind of ceaseless quest to find the perfect game that will somehow whisk me away to junior high -- and I'm not sure that's possible anymore.

I often wonder if it would be best to cut myself off. To simply select a game and use it as my singular go-to -- at least in terms of running games. Yet somehow, I always hold myself back from doing just that. Maybe it's because I'm not twelve anymore, and I never will be again.


  1. Hey James, you're not alone. Many gamers are out there searching for the perfect game. The one game that will make all the other games obsolete. The one game that you can pursue with a single mind and a single purpose without distraction. The game that you can just play and play without a thought of what's wrong with it, how you can make it even better, what else is out there. Heck, I've been trying to find that game for 35 years and after playing scores of games and owning too many to count, I have yet to find it.

    Sure, maybe I SHOULD be buying less and playing more. Maybe I SHOULD be concentrating on really playing the heck out of one game. Yeah, maybe I SHOULD, but the truth is, I just like buying games and that's okay.

    The bottom line is, just do what brings you joy. It doesn't matter why you do it. The real answer is irrevelent. All that matters is doing what it is that's in you to do. So if tinkering, buying, messing around with rules brings you joy then do it. If it doesn't then do something else. That's okay. just go with it. Being an adult is complicated enough so there's no need to make it more complicated by analyzing things.

  2. James, as goeticgeek wrote above, you're not alone. I catch myself chasing the same thing. The dilemma is, we all know we're grown-ups now, but we're still looking for our younger selves, eyes wide with wonder, and a d20 in our hand...

    OSR IS the symbol of simpler times, and to me, this kind of gaming will always be about fun and imagination and swords and lasers and dinosaurs and shit. NOT about the misery porn that some OSR folks produce; I couldn't care less.

    That's life, I guess.

  3. I just completed my 1st edition re-buy. It isn't because I expect to play that edition again, but because I want those moments of looking at Tramp and Sutherland and Russ and Otus,gropng for that new game feeling. I have sracks of OSR and Time/Life enchanted word, all to recapture the feels of first findings ruleset rhat helped me order the universe I was in, while feeding my earlier childhood 's hunger for magic and tales of faerie.

  4. Hi. I totally get it, except I was a late-bloomer: 16. I had the AD&D books when I was 15, but didn't really get RP gaming until I played TFT with friends. And more and more as I look back on that, it was more about the time with friends than it was about the game.

    Active gaming faded out in my mid-20s. I continued buying, and moved into writing and designing and occasionally (gasp) editing. Which are things I do well enough, but not the same.

    So last year I gave away most of my physical collection. I've left most of the PDF collection in the cloud, at the store archives. The rest fits in a 10-ream paper box, and 1/4 of that is taken up by two cardboard dice towers.

    Basically what's left is I follow a handful of blogs because they are creators who I find interesting and thoughtful. And I might rewrite my dice roller as I learn a new programming language. The rest are simple board/dice/card games that my family can tolerate.

    Unless my daughter takes me up on the offer to run her friends through a RP adventure. In which case I'm probably doomed.

  5. I agree James. I feel exactly the same way, but it's with 2nd Ed (which I grew up on) and fighting fantasy. I'm chasing the exact same nostalgia. The latest adventure I've been working on at home is just written in a hilroy notebook, with terrible graph paper and half scribbled ideas. That's enough for me. I think is also the reason why I countinue to play the same songs on guitar (the exact same songs I learned so long ago), because it makes me feel young again. I should point out though, that I have an overwhelming desire to buy up old modules etc.

  6. I know the feeling. In my case it's not so much an attempt to return to my boyhood, but to selectively recapture some of the better parts of it. Because, on close examination, being twelve wasn't that great. My teenage years were a gauntlet of desperation, me hoping to make it to the "freedom" of adulthood. Not that I made the best decisions with that freedom once I arrived. There have been plenty of low points since, but on balance, life continues to improve with age. I hope it works out the same for you in the long-run, James.

    In the meantime, in true halfling fashion, I'd like to have my cake and eat it too. On one hand I'll enjoy tinkering with a hobby I love, and on the other, take great satisfaction in being an old fart.

    Thanks for enriching my fishing expedition, and the OSR in general. Calmer seas are on the horizon. May we all arrive with our sense of childlike wonder intact. Best wishes.

  7. Just to add a little what has already been said: I agree about chasing youth, and the perfect escape into fantasy that seems only accomplishable as a 12-year old kid with no responsibilities, but in analyzing this problem from my perspective I have homed in on one other culprit which is causing me to push the buy button when I know damnwell I already have the PDF, and could just print off the thing if I really need it *that* *bad*. The exacerbating factor is art. Good artwork inside, and especially on the cover, seems to cause a subtle release of 'feel good' hormone in me I think. Think about it: these adventures and rule-books are designed this way for a reason. There's the text to establish the framework of the universe, then there is the art to get you in the mood. And oh how some of it really succeeds at this. There is a book on RPGNow I almost bought that has nothing in it of any value but it has the most amazing cover illustration I've seen in a long time. It's these endorphins (or whatever they are) that are the culprit for me. They're the same thing that cause people to flip out about Twitter and Facebook likes. It gives you a little shot, just like McCoy's syringe--pfffffft. There. Have a dose of good OSR feelies. All better.

  8. Late to the party, but I echo most of the above. Nostalgia is a powerful drug for us middle-aged guys. I am just thankful for the creative minds that continue to feed my habit, err hobby. Seriously, I get a lot of enjoyment out of all aspects of the OSR.


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