Monday, July 19, 2010


Cultural definitions are a strange beast. One can definitely notice trends and similarities in people but it can be excruciatingly difficult to nail defining end points for where one generation ends and another begins. Often there is over-lap between generations, and always there are exceptions that muddy the waters. Generational trends are easiest to notice over long periods of time, but any such generalizations tend to fall apart with any close scrutiny.

As an astrologer, I take more than a passing interest in generations and generational trends, specifically to provide better interpretations for the psychology of individuals. For example, if one understands how one person’s Jupiter and Neptune combination affects their life, perhaps some insight can be drawn for another individual with a similar configuration. This is, of course, trickier than it sounds as position of planets in relationship to each other at one’s time of birth is often the fashion in which these “trends” or generational influences manifest, and determining that underlying cause (the “trends”) can be challenging when one is distracted by the manifestation (as often the manifestation feels more important than the underlying cause anyway).

ANYway, as an astrologer, I have two different ways to explain these generational exceptions that occur in folks:

a) There are more than one generational planets (called trans-personal planets) which act in combination or (do to placement or aspect with other planets) act in a way different from how one would expect.

b) People have free will.

The second may seem fairly obvious but it’s funny how some folks’ free will seems “more free” than others. From an astrological stand-point, it’s the person who “knows themselves” better that is more able to deal with his or her own quirks and idiosyncrasies. But there are a lot of people out there who are perfectly satisfied “living inside the box,” uninterested in self-analysis and these often appear to be “slaves to their signs.”

Anyway, what the heck does that have to do with gaming? Well…

A person (specifically: me) might think that there’s some generational cut-off between gamers of different editions of Dungeons & Dragons…or different decades of role-playing in general. After all, I’m not the only one who uses terms like “2nd generation gamer.” Or 3rd, or whatever. Because of the differences in gaming as a sub-culture…and because of its RECENT history, much of it available in written form…it’s possible to study the phenomenon of role-playing games and its changes over its limited 30-40 year time span.

Now when I define gaming generations, I generally start with D&D as the touchstone, and count it something like this:

1st generation: these are the originators of the game, from Gygax and Arneson to their immediate game table to the people that attended the first Cons and spread the hobby through the midwest; folks that started playing pre-1980 in other words. Pertinent editions of 1st generation gamers would be OD&D, its supplements, and AD&D.

Holmes is the sticky part: released in 1977, it is definitely designed to introduce new people to the game. But as contemporaries of the originators, can the game have really changed enough to call them a “new generation?” They’re just a step behind, and I can’t help but think they generally catch-up pretty quickly (especially as they’d quickly exhaust the gaming possibilities of 1st through 3rd level and need to jump into either AD&D or OD&D).

2nd generation: these are people that were brought the game in the 1980s. TSR is an established powerhouse, old books from the 70s are being reissued with better production values (specifically many of the old “classic” modules) and D&D and AD&D have separated into two distinct entities with players needing to choose which version they want to play. B/X D&D is self-contained up to level 14 and has its own adventure module support, providing years of game-playing without ever needing to touch AD&D or the older stuff, and Mentzer’s BECMI is a continuation of that, along with a more kid-friendly branding, nearly coinciding with the release of the (kid-friendly) Saturday Morning Cartoon series. As these kids mature, they generally “grow into” AD&D, seeking a more mature game (as the term “Advanced” implies).

AD&D 2nd edition is the sticky part: released in 1989 it made AD&D “kid-friendly,” following the same image re-branding that 1983’s Mentzer did for B/X. Now it’s no longer an issue of D&D being for kids and AD&D being for adults…games are all aimed at “kids.” Personally, I’ve found the cut-off for people that like AD&D2 to be somewhere around 1974, but often depending on whether there introduction to “D&D” was the Mentzer version (1983) or the Moldvay/Cook version (1981) with the former taking easier to AD&D2 than the latter.

3rd generation: these are the folks that were brought into the hobby right around the release or concurrent with the release of 3rd edition AD&D in the year 2000. Generally, these appear to be children of 2nd generation players…these “kids of the 1980s” grew up and had their own kids and either returned to gaming to re-live their youth and/or teach their children something they had fun with themselves as kids. A game with a higher learning curve, many of these players were introduced to role-playing at a later age (early to mid-teens) than 2nd generation gamers. 3rd generation gamers have little if any experience with the simpler RPGs of the past. Just as earlier generations of players have certain “learned expectations” of role-playing, this minimal exposure to anything but post-1990 games will influence the 3rd gen:

- Less random, more option
- Skills systems and consistent mechanics
- More heroism, less character death

3rd generation gamers that “look back” at older versions have got to be a weird crew. Either they have been severely influenced by an older Grognard mentor, or they have an insatiable curiosity of history (at least as pertains to gaming), or they're just outright weird…or some combination of these things.

Now I don’t know this next bit for sure, but I’m theorizing a bit:

There isn’t a 4th generation of gamer…yet.

The folks that are playing 4th edition D&D and LOVING IT are two specific types of gamer: 3rd generation gamers (who see 4th edition as a logical progression of DND3 and 3.5) and earlier generation gamers who, for whatever reason, are unduly influenced by video games, specifically of the MMORPG variety.

Those cranky Pathfinder guys who liked D&D3 but spurn 4th edition? Pretty sure most of them are 2nd generation gamers that were only willing to “bend so far.”

The 1st generation guys? In general, they’re playing the same version of D&D they always have: their own. They’ve picked and chosen from everything that’s come out along the way, but if they are still playing, it’s probably a pre-1980 version of the game with house rules and mods.

The OSR? We’re mostly 2nd generation gamers and 1st generation malcontents with some of those few “odd” 3rd gen kids that can’t get with WotC’s mind control program.

Astrology-wise, what’s more interesting generation-wise is NOT "which generation falls into a particular category (Old School, New School, whatever)", but which generation is RESPONSIBLE for each design iteration of Dungeons & Dragons.

With the exception of Grandfather Gygax and Mr. Holmes, all the designers of what we generally call “Old School” versions (OD&D, B/X, AD&D, BECMI, AD&D2) were all members of the “Me Generation,” that is the planet Pluto was passing through the sign of Leo (the Big Showboat of the zodiac) at the time of their birth. This includes Dave Arneson and Dave Cook, Mentzer and Moldvay, Kask and Kuntz.

The designers of DND3 and what we might consider “modern game designers?” They are all from “Generation Slack,” or “Generation Critical,” born with Pluto in the sign of Virgo (Cook and Tweet, Rein-Hagen and Ron Edwards). Actually, I’m not sure of Skip Williams as I couldn’t locate his birth year anywhere, but if he’s the same age as Ernie Gygax that would put him in the 1959-1961 age which would indeed be the same group.

[FYI: Astrologers consider Pluto to be a good marker of generations because, with an orbit of 248 years, it generally takes 20 or so years to pass through each sign of the zodiac, marking dramatic, long-range changes in society]

I find it fascinating that the originators of RPGs comes from a generation known for, well, putting a bit of emphasis on themselves. Rather than play games or read stories they thought, “how can I play a game where I AM the protagonist of the story?” And while all those versions of AD&D are slightly different and refined in some ways, all seek to do this…whether the PCs are heroes or mercenaries, they’re still the protagonists of the adventure.

Meanwhile, Virgoan game designers have said: “the game’s not SPECIFIC enough! It needs MORE MINUTIA!” These later games are filled with options and calculations and codified stats…things Virgos in general love, by the way…and ways to to make the games less organic and more mechanical. Even Ron Edwards with his “Story Now” games seeks to codify story-telling mechanically…providing mechanical rules for originating theme and addressing premise. That’s somewhat crazy (from a traditional art/story-telling standpoint) even if it is also crazy-cool.

Now I suppose the next question is, how will MY generation…the Libran Plutos…design games, and how will our games look that is different from those that have come before us? Will they be watered down in an attempt please everyone in a balanced fashion? And the Scorpionic Plutos, few though they are, what will they do when it’s their turn to contribute to the grand tradition of game design? Hopefully they’ll create games both passionate and transformative in nature.

By the way (for those who are curious), My. Gygax was of the generation that had Pluto in the sign of Cancer. I'm not sure how the "mother of the signs" played into his game design specifically, but I'm pretty sure he considered D&D to be his baby, and all RPGs (and their players) to be children by extension.
: )


  1. I don't know much about astrology really. But I will comment on your generations idea.

    It is something we see in my "day job" as an educator. I am constantly dealing with papers and reports on "how to teach to Generation Y and Generation Next".

    Personally, I am a 2nd generation gamer, one of the thousands that got a Basic Set for Christmas. But I also like the OSR, Pathfinder AND D&D 4. So it's a handy shorthand, but it can't apply in every case.

    Maybe, just maybe, certain generations don't like certain games because they are not supposed to. They were not written for them, but for others of a like mind.
    It might be like music. I can't stand most music from the 50s. My wife says that I am stuck in the 80s and 90s, but what new stuff I have heard I like. A little.

    It will be interesting to see what the next generation of gamer plays and then writes.

  2. I'm a late 2nd generation gamer, who likes 4e and has never logged a minute of an MMO (yet). It's funny that what I'm playing is 4e, but what I'm writing about is Rules Cyclopedia. Hmmm....

  3. Very interesting post! Thanks for this! I was born in late October 1975, and really didn't get into D&D until 1988. My friends and I had the 1E AD&D books, and I loved them! Then we saw the flood of 2nd Edition stuff start coming out, and we decided to move to that, because if it was D&D, how could it be bad? But I have to say that I became disillusioned with 2nd Edition for myriad reasons (which I hope to explore more deeply on my blog in the coming days) and to this day it's pretty much my least favorite version of the game. Now, I dabbled in the OD&D stuff (got the Rules Cyclopedia and bought the "Black Box") but never really played it. Then I left gaming for years until 3rd Edition came out. I bought the 3E books but never really played that either. The OSR has been a part of my return to the game, and it's giving me a relatively "rules-light" and "characters as heroic archetype" way to get back into the hobby.

  4. I think a hell of a lot of people forget that Jonathan Tweet also designed Over the Edge, one of the most player-driven and improvisational games out there.

    And yeah, one of those apparently mind-controlled 3rd generation gamers checking in. I'm interested in old-school gaming because it's a different play style that I've never experienced.

  5. I find your generational idea interesting. I do think your perception of later generations might be colored by your not being in them though. As it is, I'm a 2nd generation gamer by your definition. I started in 1984 and after a few years moved on to non-dnd games (Palladium, Warhammer, Talislanta, etc) because they had things I felt were lacking in AD&D. I skipped 2nd Edition entirely. I returned to D&D with 3rd edition because I felt it had evolved to include those things (skills, etc). I'm currently a Pathfinder GM, and I think a fair number of 2nd and 3rd generation gamers are moving to Pathfinder.

    I think there is a 4th generation starting to grow now. I see it in my local universities gaming club. The majority of the club is running 4th edition games. There are a lot of freshman who start gaming when they join the club. So for a small but growing number of players 4th edition is D&D to them. They haven't experienced anything from before that. There is no doubt that their experience and perspsective will be very different from those who started even with 3rd edition. I also think you'll be surprised at how many 1st or 2nd generation gamers have embraced 4th edition.

    Overall, I think it is a great time to be a gamer. We have the resources to play any sort of game we want. We've grown beyond the d20 boom and returned to a more diverse, almost 80s like, period. I hated it when everything seemed to be d20 based. I like the system sometimes, but I also like other games. I'm glad that Warhammer, Earthdawn, Shadowrun, Traveller and a host of others are continuing to have support. I'm glad that there are places to find great OSR resources and material for whatever your favorite D&D version is. I'm glad that new games are evolving, Mouse Guard, Eclipse Phase, Houses of the Blooded, etc. Whatever your generation, it is a great time to be a gamer.

    I also wonder where you place gamers who started elsewhere. If your first game was Vampire or Rifts or Gurps, all of the D&D games look strange to you.

  6. @ Everyone: I've modified my original generational theory...I think that the generations are broken up more by retail trends than by anything else (RPGs being a retail product, after all). Check out the new post. Most of you who commented are now in a new category.

    @ Jaimie: I've blogged about Tweet and OTE in the past and admire him for the work...I certainly haven't forgotten!

    @ Deinol: Certainly people come to the games through different roads, though I've known few people who haven't sampled some sort of "fantasy RPG" (D&D or otherwise) in their formative years. People who started their role-playing experience in late high school/college with Vampire and certain other "more mature" gaming are part of what I call "the Lost Generation" as these often failed to "seed into" the RPG community as a least that's been my experience from the 90s.

    Anyone in college now (DOB circa 1988-1992) would fall into my new "5th generation gamer" category (what I was calling 3rd Gen in this post)...and yes, they are much more likely to take to 4th edition D&D, that's the hypothesis. Even if they did NOT start with 3rd edition, they're learning to game based on the same presumptions set down by WotC version of D&D...those haven't changed, only been emphasized (to the exclusion of the original game design).