Saturday, May 17, 2008

Shattering the Myth

Yet another James with some great writing skills! Check out his great comments on the state of the retro movement. I'm no expert on modern retro modules, but James seems to have a good grasp on the topic.

I had such a long response that I'll make it here instead, but go read the whole thing. If you care about old school gaming, you'll be enlightened by the message.

To quote and respond:

I had no idea what I was doing, and I didn't know anyone else that played this game. My first attempts at playing involved laying the map down like a board game and moving little pieces along the map like we're playing Clue.

Identical to my own beginnings, except I used B2’s map on the kitchen table.

And yet the parade of like-minded products continues.

I understand what James is saying here. Clearly there is a market for this style of adventure, though. How big that market is, I have no idea.

I put forward the idea that the only excellent modules are ones that introduce and exemplify game and rules concepts to the individual campaign, or that provide open-ended adventure possibilities that cannot possibly be explained in the confines of the adventure itself.

I agree with this whole-heartedly. With the caveat that any experienced DM can take a published module, even the most narrow minded dungeon crawl, and make something of it. Likewise, an inexperienced DM could take an excellent adventure like T1 and make nothing of it.

create modules that are something different, that add to the possibilities of the game, that focus on oft-ignored facets of the game, and that inspire something new within the people that are using the modules. We don't need anymore simple dungeon crawls.

I support the spirit of this statement. In fact, this is the true advantage of using those older, rules light systems. You indeed have more potential for introducing game concepts. Inspiring something new can be challenging. I enjoy open ended possibilities in modules, whether it means player determined paths, or simply vague tidbits that can be detailed by the DM before (or during) play.

The problem as I see it, is that many modern players, and DM’s alike, aren’t looking for vague tidbits. The notion of filling in the blanks often gets lost somewhere in the transition from old school to new school.

Top this off with the misconception that old school equates to dungeon crawls, orcs and chests full of gold pieces, and we see the gaming void of which you speak. A gap between using modules only as written, and the notion of DM interaction with that module.

The path of least resistance for these publishers of retro modules is to simply hammer out a dungeon crawl that doesn’t challenge the DM or the player. It’s up to the DM to take it to the next level. In fact, the concept of dungeon crawls truly seems to be a modern comment on some perceived idea of what D&D was. It’s almost as if retro publishers are allowing modern D&D to define what old school is.

As James pointed out in his module synopses, there are classic examples of D&D’s possibilities out there. The problem I see, is that modern D&D players do not want modules with gaming potential. They would rather everything and every possibility is spelled out in the module, or in the rules.

there is a chance here for a renaissance of commercially feasible and creatively vibrant products. If we don't take advantage of that, then all we have is nostalgia and if all we're doing is reminiscing about a "better time" then the only place we'll go is away.

We know that old school does not equate to dungeon crawl. Sure, it’s the preferred adventure style for many, many fans of old school products, myself included. But what dungeon crawl means to me is surely NOT the same thing that it means to modern D&D players.

The allure of old school is not in the adventure style, it’s in the approach to gaming. Endless possibilities, that open ended spirit that many dungeon crawls, including some of the classics, managed to remove from their module, in order to organize and assert more control over the adventure. A willing DM could still take even the most rudimentary dungeons and make them work for his campaign, make them speak to his players in ways the authors never intended or envisioned.

Shattering the notion that old school equates to dungeon crawl seems to be the best hope for this renaissance. But let’s face it, the retro rules and old school rules ARE available for modern players to discover, I’m just not convinced that producing modules that aid in correcting this misconception is going to help them do so. I’d love to be proven wrong, and it is certainly worth the effort to find out.

Thanks James for such an insightful post!

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

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