Inspired by this post over at my favorite Homebrew D&D blog, Scott's World of Thool, I am compelled to consider the ramifications of pursuing the creative side of our hobby. In the formative days of D&D, it was accepted that each referee's world was a unique vision of the possibilities of the open-ended format of the game. Greyhawk, Blackmoor, Arduin and Tekumel come to mind. There was no actual setting introduced with original D&D. Referees were on their own.
In reading the little brown books, one is guided in very basic methods for world creation; design at least three dungeon levels, place a town near the dungeon to serve as a home base, draw a basic overland map of the regions surrounding the dungeon. That's it. This is the foundation of D&D as envisioned by Gygax & Arneson. The dungeon as the adventuring hub, with limitless possibilities beyond the dungeon waiting to be discovered by player exploration.
What draws me to D&D, and what will keep me playing it for the rest of my life in one form or another, is this creative potential. I think that many of us plunking the keys out here in this old school blogger circle appreciate the hobby for exactly this reason. Nearly every blog I can think of is written by a referee, DM or GM. It's another creative outlet for our ceaseless desire to make crap up for D&D and its derivatives.
When we're not playing, we're writing about playing or what we plan to play in the future. We review what others have done in this regard or wax philosophically about our hobby. Whatever the case, we write and we write and we write some more. The bottom line is we like to create. It's what has kept us coming back to D&D, or never leaving in many cases.
One of the draws of OD&D is the realization that there in no published campaign setting inexorably linked to that edition. I think that's the primary reason I have aligned myself with the 1974 version. I appreciate not only the creative potential in the rules themselves, another topic entirely, but the fact that OD&D does not conjure up any notions of a particular world at all. It's a sandbox for the referee as well as the players.
Given a creative sandbox in which to build, tinkering types like me tend to knock down the foundations and begin with nothing more than the sand. Over time, our ideas and designs build and build, becoming unrecognizable to others. They are clearly our own little visions of the game, our Sand Castle Worlds. There's a lot to love about this aspect of the hobby. There's also the risk that those not in tune with this level of homebrewing will look upon our creations with disdain.
From where I sit, a unique world full of mystery begging to be uncovered and defined through exploration and discovery is the ultimate game setting. Unfortunately, I believe that this appreciation of truly homebrewed worlds has gone the way of the vinyl LP. There's something new, shiny and familiar for most modern players of D&D; the published world and the exceedingly expansive accompanying rules.
Most DM's of modern D&D satisfy their creative desires by writing adventures and plots and by further defining that which they have been provided. I'm not saying that the homebrew school is more creative, I just think we are creative in different ways. We're doing the same thing in essence, it's just that when we further define that which we have been provided, we are working from more or less a blank canvas and an idea.
The main thrust of Scott's post was this concern that it has become more difficult to attract players who think in modern terms to his homebrew vision of D&D. I believe that given the chance to actually experience a unique campaign world, players will come crawling back for more, time and again. I commented in the above referenced post, but I'd like to reword what I wrote there as follows:
1. Let the weirdness unfold in layers.
2. Keep all the monsters behind a curtain.
3. Let the players discover the strange bits of the world, sandbox style.
I'm convinced that once the action begins, there will be no looking back. You can't teach an old dog new tricks, but here's to hoping that you can teach a new dog old tricks.
~Sham, Quixotic Referee