Monday, August 16, 2010

Hmm...Where to Start...?

It may come as a surprise to some of my readers, even long-time readers, that I’m probably closer to the “indie gamer” end of the gaming spectrum than the “grognard” end. In fact, many of my “old school sensibilities” are directly influenced and impacted by the research and theory-bashing I’ve done in the indie realm…I’ve just applied these “indie values” through a lens of love and appreciation for Old School games…from Dungeons & Dragons to Top Secret to Boot Hill, etc..

I started blogging about gaming, and D&D gaming in particular, because I was inspired by the OSR blogs I was reading on the web…the other posters in the blog-o-sphere re-kindled something in me that had been dead (or barely smoldering) for a good, long time. And for that I thank ALL you cranky curmudgeons, retro-cloners, and acolytes of the Temple of Gygax. Truly, thank you!

But the whole reason I stumbled upon the OSR was my research of a semi-indie game designer in the pursuit of my own indie-design stuff. I’m not some guy who’s been playing D&D for 30 years straight. After a (semi-brief) experiment with 3rd edition D&D in the early part of the last decade, I’d pretty much chucked the whole damn idea of “D&D role-playing” out the window…and prior to D20, I hadn’t played more than 3 or 4 pick-up games since 1989 or so. That’s a loooong stretch of “non-D&D;” especially for a dude that’s come roaring back and now even has a supplement book he wants to sell.

Shit. Well, the world just keeps turning ‘round, right?

So, yes, I realize that some of the grognard scene (even some of the innovative, “new kid” grogs) have clashed with some of the indie-design folks. I hate to even attempt to simplify the argument (because I certainly won’t do the nuances justice), but what the hell…I’m a hack blogger, and that’s what I do:

Indie game designers: "We’ve evolved in our role-playing sensibilities and are not interested in repeating or recreating the past. Role-playing is worth doing, but should be pushed in new directions to explore the limits of imaginary play."

Grognard game designers: "We haven’t yet mined all the possibility of Old School play; there is something intrinsically fun about Old School design principles and there is MORE room for pushing one’s imagination without resorting to crazy ass rules/mechanics."

Now to me, I can reconcile these two perspectives in my own mind, even if I may have difficulty articulating how I do that. Hell, maybe I’m just a natural iconoclast and as long as I get a chance to “fight the man” (WotC, WoD, GURPS, etc.) who cares which side of the revolution I’m on?

But really, it IS more than me just wanting to spit in someone’s face. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I believe RPGs (traditional, table-top RPGs) have VALUE. Not only are they fun and amusing pastimes. Not only are they a constructive and active means of escapism (as opposed to destructive and passive…like narcotics and television). I believe that playing RPGs can ADD VALUE to peoples’ lives.

How do these games do this? By stretching the mind, the imagination, the creativity. By forcing individuals to be mentally engaged, using verbal skills, math skills, reading. By fostering social skills (yes, REALLY) by putting people face-to-face in a social contract situation and forcing them to “get along.” By increasing our ability to empathize by experiencing many different lives vicariously through role-playing. As well, I think RPGs have the potential to foster and create intimacy, and help people work with/through issues of intimacy and trust.

Now that’s just my belief, and that’s kind of the premise under which I live and operate…and from that perspective both indie-games AND old school-type games has some of the greatest potential to do these “value added” things to a group of gamers. UNlike, say, other games that get lost in hundreds of pages of intricate minutia just so that they can attempt to model a particular game setting in a “realistic” way (whatever the hell THAT means!).

To the Grognards that call the Forge-ites “elitist snobs,” I say:

We can learn a lot from their careful analysis of game mechanic and theories of why “system matters.” Outside-the-box thinking expands our own creativity and playing different games with different systems is lubrication for rusty mental synapses.

To the Indie Gamers that think Old Schoolers are “stuck in the past,” I say:

We can learn a lot from their passion and enthusiasm and their ability to do more with less. There is something to be said for economy of game design, and game design with the occasional “gaping hole” forces one to exercise imagination, and builds creative muscles. Playing these games reminds us of our hobby’s past and where we came from, which can help with formulating future design goals.

Now why am I bothering to write all this up for folks? Because I want people to understand my stance on role-playing as I start to describe my recent convention experiences in detail. If I am critical of anything, please understand I am NOT purposefully attempting to be cruel...I really bear nothing but love for the people I met at the Con. But I want to get my thoughts, my feelings, and my observations down for my own sake and that means I may say a thing or two that some find hurtful. And…well, sometimes I do that. I’d still game with most any of you.
: )

All right. The next few posts should be...interesting (I hope).


  1. Hey, this post was interesting in its own right! 'Course my sensibilities are similar to your own, so I suppose the "interest" could spring from that. Looking forward to reading about your con experiences.

  2. I agree completely. To me, the old school games have value as a lingua franca for low-rules-intensive adventure gaming, but I'm not interested in retreading the past for its own sake and I certainly have respect for Savage Worlds and other systems that are trying the same thing through different means.

  3. Well said! Coming at this blogging things from a similar perspective (inspired by those old school grognards even though I don't play a lot of D&D these days), I look forward to seeing where you take this discussion.

    And knowing your place on the indie-grognard axis (or lack thereof) definitely helps me put some of your older posts in context.


  4. I think there might be more of us out here in the blog-a-verse than you might think that have similar sensibilities. Granted those who don't, stick to their corresponding forums and preach the gospel, while people that can find good in both, frequent both, but tend to lurk (not wanting to be called a Troll, etc.), picking at individual ideas of greatness for inspiration.

    To each their own. I will acquire inspiration from both.


  5. Great post. I'm pretty much neutral in terms of my rpg views. I like the OSR, and I like the a lot of new school blogs and new school ideas. I can appreciate anyone who is out there creating, whether it's for old games or new ones.

  6. I was already probably going to buy the Companion, but now that I see what a similar place we are in, I'm even more curious to see what you're bringing to the table.

  7. good post.

    got me excited about what you will post next. :)

  8. You and I are in the same boat, my friend; I love the Forge, and all their ideas of why System Matters and Fantasy Heartbreakers and GNS theory and RPG theory. I just happen to sit on the sweet spot of that spectrum where I really, really like DMing for a group of guys who are pretending to rob tombs and slay dragons and stuff.

    Matter of fact, my two favorite games are Donjon and BECMI D&D- one is pretty straight old-school D&D, and the other is absolutely insane, narrativist-meets-high-adventure silliness that I love the Forge so much for providing for us.

  9. Damn right JB. Great games are great games. Cool ideas abound. End of.