Tuesday, January 19, 2010

A Long and Visual Rant About The OD&D Revival

At its root, the OD&DR is made up of people who believe that WotC destroyed their hobby when they purchased TSR, and have either refused to change systems (remaining with 1st and 2nd edition), or have picked up The OSRIC game, or some other D20 alternative that attempts to turn the d20 rule set into a sort of second edition with skills and feats. Some people new to the hobby have abandoned 4th edition (or never gave it a look at all) and have simply picked up OSRIC or the older books on eBay. It's about the nostalgia of gaming, and these players want a piece of history, even if they weren't around to see it made the first time.

Now, let me be clear that as far as I'm concerned, anything that draws market share away from 4th edition is fine by me. I don't care if you're leaving the game to go play tiddlywinks or GURPS - as long as you're leaving. The disgusting failure that is the new iteration of Gygax's game needs to go broke before the mouth-breathers at WotC will stop tinkering with D&D. My only hope for the future of my hobby is that whatever passes for management at Hasbro will see the failing numbers and cut the "creative" staff free. Even a squad of monkeys with tourettes syndrome would produce a better game system, so almost anyone except the writers of FATAL would be an improvement.

But the OD&DR poses a different sort of problem for me as a gamer. I own all the 2nd edition supplements I was interested in, and most of the 1st edition ones as well. They came out when I was young, before I discovered girls, got a car, went on dates, got married or had children. OD&D was affordable then, and the books never go out of style. I could join this new revolution and be perfectly at home.

But I'm not going to. I've worked too hard on this new edition of GALADRAN to throw it away, even for a older and beloved version. The very existence of the revival makes me wonder at the state of our hobby. The OD&DR's are on the surface another form of gaming purist - for them, there is no D&D but OD&D. They have lost their faith in WotC, and in other gaming companies to produce any alternative to the old game. That would be understandable from grognards like me, but brand new players rejecting modern gaming for retro is surprising. But its not that simple.

Retro crazes are usually predicated on two things - nostalgia and identity. People who lived it once want the nostalgia. Newcomers to a niche genre (like steampunk or gothic style, for example) tend to adopt it as a defining characteristic that separates them from the "mainstream" culture of their niche. It is in essence a way to further factionalize an already small group for the purpose of being even more different.

It can also be a sort of protest move, which is what I think is happening with the OD&DR. It is gaining popularity as a form of protest against mainstream D&D. Protest grumpiness like this was common when the game went from 2nd to 3rd edition as well (I was one of the grumpy ones). But this is less about the game being ruined by people without the original vision (as was the popular complaint then) and more about the game being ruined by the people who "ruined" it the last time. There is no faith in WotC to turn the ship around, and as a result people have just abandoned it for other things. But they want Wizards to know they have abandoned them, and they want to be missed. They keep hoping that their protest will cause WotC to try and woo them back, address their needs, and return things to the way they were. They're like ex-girlfriends.

Wizards did this to themselves. I have never seen a more incompetent advertising campaign than the one I saw for the release of 4th edition - and that includes the abomination that was the campaign for the release of 3rd edition. In order to generate buzz for the new edition of the game, they needed a strategy to entice player away from their current edition. It was decided that the way to do this was to highlight the ease of play and the new features of 4th edition over the older, more complicated edition. On the surface, this seems like a good strategy, and in some cases it was handled well. Have a look at this webclip they sent out to talk about some of the changes in the new edition.

The gnome is the best part, but I got to learn a little about the game too. I was both entertained and informed by this ad. They should have stuck with this. Instead, it was decided to highlight ease of play by casting aspersions on the game already in production. Have a look.

I don't know about any of you, but I had no problem with THAC0 or weapon speed in 2nd edition. I had no trouble with grapple or sunder rules in 3rd edition. Furthermore, I don't know anyone who did. To imply that the new edition is better because the four idiots around that table never read their rulebook insults my intelligence. And I'm personally offended to be grouped together with them. This doesn't make me want to play 4th edition - it makes me hate the people who produced this garbage.

TSR had this problem to a lesser extent as well. Check the Wikipedia article above for examples. Public relations doesn't seem to be a strong point for either company. And that hurts them. The more they try to be clever and innovative with the rules, the more derivative the ruleset becomes, and the more they are forced to defend their innovation. The more they try to connect with older gamers, the more they drive them away.

The OD&D revival is a result of this dissatisfaction. Gamers like D&D, but hate the people running it. They want their dissatisfaction to be recognized, but can't do it simply by refusing to play the new edition (like I have) because that would mean they would be ignored by the gaming community. They want the attention, the bully pulpit, and they want their choice of game to reflect their dissatisfaction.

More than any other reason, that's why I won't join it. I want to build my world, create my game, and DM in peace. I don't want a cause - I want a game. And I have one I like. If D&D never produces another book in any edition, I'll still have my game. And that's all I want.