Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Talking 'Bout My Generation

Received an email (early) this morning from one of my Baranof players, Josh (he plays the dwarf, Bognine…is it just me or does anyone else picture the lovable drunk from Airwolf when I say that name?).

[wasn’t that character’s name Corky? Or was that the kid with down syndrome from Party of Five? I don’t know…I didn’t watch much TV in the mid-late 80s except The Cosby show. Too busy playing Dungeons & Dragons, I guess]

Anyway, he was just dropping me a line to say he enjoyed the blog (hi, if you’re reading!) and provide me with some background on his past gaming experience, including a similar pattern as myself (played Dungeon! for awhile then started in on Basic D&D). Of course, he first picked up the Mentzer red box, not the Moldvay version, circa 1983.

Now if I’m remembering correctly, Josh is the same age as myself (though he does have the look of one of those Year of the Tiger guys, i.e. born in ’74) but due in part to this small difference, our ideas of role-playing may be built on completely different foundations.

And it’s not even that big a difference! To me, that’s pretty amazing…I probably got my copy of Moldvay in ’82…I know I was reading those Endless Quest books around the same time (they were published in 1982), which I believe were illustrated by Elmore (indicating he was already in TSR’s stable of artists by that time).

Remember when 1 or 2 years made a huge difference in your relationship with other people? Nowadays it has almost no effect of course…many of us are married to folks older or younger than ourselves, and I’d guess all of us have friends or game with people of a wide age range (I know I do).

As a kid, this was never the case. Age…and class year…can seem so darn important for so long. Elementary school to middle school, middle school to high school…even upper classman to lower classman within schools, the gulf can feel enormous. Thank God we grow out of it!

[for me, I think I finally came around to ignoring age circa my second year in college…for the next three years I continued to get in relationships with different women who all remained the same age (19) even as I kept getting older. Like that line from Dazed and Confused, I guess. Plus “drinking age” is a great equalizer as well…]

These days, it doesn’t matter whether someone’s 28 or 42, equalizing factors come instead from mutual life experiences. “Can I relate to you?” is no longer a question of whether we are in the same level math class, but rather if we share the same interests. Do you game? Are you married? Do you have a dog? Did you see last Sunday’s Seahawks game?

And yet…despite that, this small difference from our distant childhoods can completely color our gaming hobby. A guy who started playing D&D in 1979 with the Holmes edition is going to have a pretty different take on the game than someone who started in 1983 with Mentzer…even though their age difference is only 5 years apart. It’s kind of mind-blowing, don’t you think?

Or maybe not to some…personally, I’ve been so steeped in the OSR blog-o-sphere the last 18 months, that I may have lost some much needed perspective. But to ME, it seems like these little differences are like life and death to folks…look at MY blog, for goodness sake! A ton of it seems to be devoted to passionately expounding on the virtues of Moldvay/Cook/Holmes, and with good reason: it’s the best dammit!
; )

But a person just a year or two younger than me might feel the same about Mentzer. And a person a year or two older might feel the same about Holmes. And even though, I’d be willing to play a game with someone age 25 (that would mean he or she was born in 1985, long after the release of ANY of these “basic sets”) I have a feeling that it might be a challenge to introduce my style of play to someone who grew up with D20 as the baseline of Dungeons & Dragons.

3rd Edition just celebrated its 10th anniversary! Kids who started playing when they were 10 or 11 are now hitting the bars! Kids that started playing in high school might be starting families…or may be unemployed and looking for work in this economy…but otherwise are probably not much different from me. Besides fuller heads of hair.

Mmm…I guess what I’m getting at here is MAYBE some of us crazy-ass pundit-types (like moi) have lost sight of what the game is all about in our denigration of un-favored editions (like I have with 2nd and 3rd edition or most RPGs with “skill systems”).

MAYBE, I said…and I certainly feel there’s still plenty of scorn to be heaped on that shit-pile called 4th edition that dares to call itself a “role-playing game.” That’s like feeding poison to children and someone at Hasbro/WotC needs to be bitch-slapped.

BUT…with regard to other RPGs, even the grossly over-blown ones like Champions and GURPS...well, it may be that only the span of a few short years (or months) prevented those from being MY “game of choice.” If it’s still role-playing AND if it continues to create interest/enthusiasm in keeping the game alive, then have at it. Folks should take things I say with a grain of salt anyway. After all, I’m still intrigued at the thought of playing a game like Terra Primate.
: )


  1. Yes, I have been thinking of Ernest Borgnine every time the character's been mentioned. He played Dominic Santini on Airwolf and Corky was from Life Goes On. Party of Five came later, and was the proto-Dawson's Creek/One Tree Hill. Next!

  2. Any older game that people are still excited about, despite no longer having marketing dollars supporting that excitement, is okay with me. Maybe it's not my game of choice, but it's got to have *something* going for it or people would leave it on the shelf.

  3. Went to the movie Red with my sister last week. Borgnine showed up as The Records Keeper. We turned to each other "He's still alive?"

    Red by the way was enjoyable. No surprises or anything but I liked it. Seven words: Hellen Mirren with fifty caliber machine gun.

  4. I was born in '84. First D&D I ever played was 4e, about a year ago. Enjoyed it at first, but now can't stand it. Currently playing Labyrinth Lord, which I think is vastly better.

    I admit to not being sure exactly which era of D&D LL is cloning, but it seems to me (and my group, similarly aged) to be a much better game than 4e. Never going back there.

  5. ...I have a feeling that it might be a challenge to introduce my style of play to someone who grew up with D20 as the baseline of Dungeons & Dragons.

    It's not as big a challenge as you might think.

  6. Woohoo! I'm internet famous! JB, way to make an interesting read out of a rambling email from a semi-stranger!

    I did name my dwarf after Ernest in jest, but I do think Borgnine sounds like a fantasy dwarf or otherwise nordic-style character name (also evokes Star Trek, tho I'm not a trekkie).

    Loved the Endless Quest books, specifically the green and blue ones with elves as the protagonists. 1974 Tiger right here.

    I may not have mentioned this, but the bulk of my actually playing D&D according to actual rules with more than one other actual person was 2nd Edition AD&D. Primary character: Moon Elf Thief in Luke's several-year long Forgotten Realms campaign.

    I like reading your (and other) rants/explanations/justifications of why the old school had it right in the first place. It's interesting because I always took it for granted that more rules and more clarifications and more options and more variations was improving the game (until 3e/d20, which seemed like a more radical departure, although I mostly objected to it because of the dramatic shift in the aesthetics of the game. Skinny halflings? Does not compute!).

    In 2e, it was nice to be able to quantify and "officialize" some of the ways I wanted to flesh out my character (nonweapon proficiencies, etc.), but in practice, so few of those things were actually used in game play, that they may just as well have been character background stuff that I wrote on my character sheet and used to inform my (admittedly minimal) role playing.

    I will admit I have a tendency toward min-maxing, but it has been equal parts refreshing (problem solving) and frustrating that Borgnine has yet to swing his magic axe in White Plume Mountain anyway, so it doesn't matter what my stats are!

  7. I'm kind of glad we haven't hit any melee combat yet. At 19hp, death is just one good hit away. Honestly, I wasn't expecting to live past the first game.

  8. Terra Primate here as well. Look sliek a fun concept. I have all the Planet of the Apes DVDs: movies, TV series, cartoons.

  9. @ Iron Goat: Dude...Randy? Damn, I don't even know who reads my blog anymore. You're not out of the woods yet, man.

    @ Josh: I am sure you will be able to use your big axe at some point. Think of your abilities"abilities" rather than "stats." They describe your character's abilities.

    By the way...what the hell's a "moon elf?"

    @ Trollsmyth: Yeah,'re a genius.
    ; )

    @ Anthony: Good to know I'm not the only crazy one.
    : )

  10. @JB: duh, only the most common subrace of elf in the Faerun!

    I'm guessing The Iron Goat is Heron (Taril the Cleric)?

  11. I'm 33 and my gaming group ranges from 24 to 40-something. You're absolutely right that whilst our age has got very little to do with whether we socialise or how well we get on with each other, it's got a huge bearing on our roleplaying 'credentials'.

    I've never played OD&D of any sort, my first game was the red box and my experience was mostly around AD&D 2E and WFRP. My gaming peers all have different experiences, from mainly CRPGs to Torg and AD&D 2E. I love reading about the history of the hobby and how people play OD&D games, here, on Grognardia, The Alexandrian, Jeffs Gameblog and elsewhere. It's a fascinating insight into a particular demographic of gaming that I'm not a part of but which I owe a hell of a lot to in terms of the evolution of gaming. And at the heart of it we're all telling stories, which rocks.

  12. We spend a lot of time splitting hairs on the blogs, but at the actual table I find it doesn't much matter what edition people started with. I ask newbies if they've played D&D, edition unspecified, just to gauge how much I need to explain up front. Past that everyone knows what to do if you see an orc and you're holding a sword.

  13. @ Jeff: I may be a little more anal than yourself...people with different experiences often have different expectations of things that happen in game play....really! Like how spells works, or damage, or various abilities. Yes, many get "D&D" (I suppose)...but baseline knowledge/experience seems to (in my experience) have SOME impact at the table.

    @ James: If someone had Torg as their gaming background, THAT would be an interesting bit...I've never met anyone that's even played it!

    @ Josh: Huh...I thought Heron had 17 hit points, not 19.

    I always thought the most common subrace of elf in the FR was Drow, often of the double-blade-wielding type.
    ; )

  14. @JB - A good friend of mine ran a long Torg game which ended years before I knew him. These days he's an incredibly good GM for games with a strong story/plot (Pathfinder, Rise of the Runelords adventure path), but doesn't enjoy running sandbox games so much.

    Another friend played in said Torg game and runs one of the most sandboxey games I've played in. He's created his own AD&D 2E world which he's been running games in for the last 20+ years. He tells us he has more material than he could run in a lifetime.

    @Jeff I love reading you guys split hairs :) I'd agree that if you start with the D&D trope of games there's a shared basis for how things work. I've had differing experiences with people who came from Storyteller, particularly Vampire, where internal party conflict seems de rigeur. I find it hard to enjoy a game where the 'party' is stabbing each other more than the orcs. That may have more to do with the people I've played with though!

  15. I think more important than which era you began in, is how much you branched out in your RPG experiences. Some people live and die with their edition of D&D and never play anything else. Their expectations become set on a very particular style of play.

    I began with a mish-mash of B/X and AD&D 1st in '81. Not more than a month later, I made my first trip to my FLGS and picked up Traveller and my first Avalon Hill wargame (Gladiator). I just kept going after that, buying a new game system every other month or so. Thanks to this variety, my gaming tastes are very broad. My preference for any D&D pre 2nd edition are based strictly on presentation, rather than a difference in the rules (pre Greyhawk OD&D w/ Chainmail is an exception as I find it quite a bit different from later versions).

  16. JB/Josh: yeah, it's Heron. Can't recall my exact hp, I guess. Hell, I didn't even recall my character's name. Probably should have rolled my own after all. Like I said, I didn't expect to make it too far.

    My experience with everything past 1st ed. is purely second-hand, but the dividing line for players really just seems to be whether or not they take it for granted that their character will survive the adventure. People seem pretty adaptable about the crunchy bits.

  17. JB, moonies are probably not the most common PLAYER choice for elves in FR...

    I played Cthulhu a couple of years ago with my wife and another couple. Neither of the girls had played any RPGs before, and they really took to the roleplaying in character part of it, and the game mechanics seemed incidental to them (there was some frustration over failed "library use" skill roles). I had just purchased the 4e PHB and the first "Keep" style adventure and I was considering running it for this crew. The birth of my first child and subsequent cross country move put the kibosh on that, but in retrospect, I think the wives would have been completely bored or overwhelmed by 4e dnd. B/X and B2 would probably have been a much better fit for them.

  18. @ Arcadayn: Good point! I've been eclectic myself, which means I've got a little bit wider perspective on some of this stuff (not that I'm not set in my B/X ways...set like concrete, home-slice!).

    @ Heron: Actually, YOU were right with the HP total (just checked...was making some notes for tonight's game.

    EXPERIENCED gamers are far more adaptable to crunchy bits than new folks, I've found...even the ones with a lot of enthusiasm for the material. Even I myself have experienced "rules fatigue" of late. I had no problem picking up and digesting Chaosium's Super World recently, but a copy of Champions 4th edition put me to sleep every time I tried reading it (no matter what time of day!).

    @ Josh: My wife was recently asking about getting in on our Baranof game, but was afraid it would make the "boys night out" dynamic weird. Maybe we'll have to try a "wives game" sometime in the near future.

    After all the babies get born, of course.
    : )