Friday, March 30, 2012

Is It Simply Nostalgia?

Whitebox RAWKS!
The Old School Gamers group on Facebook is now over 1200 strong and it's certainly made Facebook a more compelling site for this old grognard. If you're not in that group, by all means jump in and enjoy the discussions. At any rate, a recent post by old school TSR artist Jeff Dee sent the reader to a new school blogger who is an unabashed fan of post 2E and holds the rather bombastic position that old school games "suck". Jeff asked us all to post on the Facebook group our own thoughts on why this guy is wrong. Clearly, his intention was to generate traffic to his blog and surely there's no harm in that I think. The gentleman is
entitled to his opinion and all that (though he should be thrashed for his choice of font imo). One assertion that always rears its ugly head in these debates is that OSR players play the old games often for reasons of nostalgia.

 Is it nostalgia? Do you get a sense of "the good old days" when you play B/X or AD&D today? Do you find yourself recalling those glory days of yesteryear in your Mom's basement?

 I just don't have those moments really.

Occam's Razor suggests that those of us who still play, or in my case devolved back to playing, the older games do so primarily because we prefer those rules. Since it's usually the DM in the group who is the straw that stirs the drink if you will, I think that there is simply a percentage of players, that is to say DMs, who enjoy the experience of running the game using the old rules. It really is quite different than running 3.X or 4E and I think the new 5E design team would do well to consider the "DM Fun" aspect of old school gaming. Take 0E for example. I thoroughly enjoy running a good session of Whitebox. There's absolutely zero nostalgia factor for me with Whitebox since it predates my introduction to the hobby by about 5 years. There are no memories to rekindle and it is entirely the same for all of the dozen or more players with whom I've played Whitebox. It's simply a very liberating framework of a game for the DM and it's quick and easy to learn.

And finally, how much does the burn out created by grid-based combat, particularly in the case of the guy providing the grid and running the baddies, factor into ones desire to move back to earlier modes of gameplay?

For me, this is a very big deal and I suspect I'm not alone here, though it's pretty clear that I fall in the minority (as a non-Pathfinder, non-4E DM). I think one of the flaws of 3.X style gaming, and 4E really gets carried away with this, is that your game becomes overly focused on the use of the 5-foot square grid and the miniatures. This leads to lengthy combats, which again, that's a feature for folks who dig that mode of play. But I also think it can lead to burnout and in my case, that's a large part of why I still like the old games. They don't grind me down as a DM and I have more fun running the game.


  1. It's also not nostalgia for me. I started with 2E in the 90s and had very little idea of games prior to 1E AD&D before last year. So OD&D and the various OSR clones are all new games to me.

  2. I have a certain amount of nostalgia for Holmes, Moldvay, and AD&D, but when I returned to D&D after not playing for years I started with 4e. It was my dissatisfaction with 4e that lead me to the OSR. I simply find old-school games inherently more fun to play. Nostalgia has very little role in it, as the old-school materials I'm using now (OD&D, Judges Guild, etc.) are not those I actually played in my youth.

  3. Yeah, I'd have to say no nostalgia here for me either. I started with 1e. I never even saw OD&D or knew much about it until about six years or so ago. I prefer the mechanics of 1e and earlier. Even [playing 3e, I stripped them down pretty bare. To be fair, I didn't use a lot of the mechanics in 1e as well so I suspect my play style has been more like Labyrinth Lord with Advanced Edition Companion. I only had peripheral experience with B/X, BECMI, etc in the day. I thought of it as a lesser game than 1e back in the day. I don't have that view today and tend to play more of a mix of 1e and B/X style these days. Seeing as how I had no experience in that realm when I was younger, and in fact being openly disdainful to it, it's hard to say I'm nostalig for anything other than maybe 1e.

  4. I played a TON of 3E, less so w/ 3.5 and ran 4E for no more than 4 months or so. Going all the way back to B/X & AD&D was simply a process of finding the rules set that worked best for my group and quite frankly, the rules set that I most enjoyed running as a DM.

    Sure that's a little selfish, but I'm committed to the idea that the game must be fun for all and a DM who's enjoying himself is simply going to provide a more satisfying experience for his group.

  5. For me its mostly about speed of combats - the newer systems take forever and there's a ton of stuff to keep track of making combats really slow. It also takes forever to level up characters when you are planning out elaborate feat chains and all the rest of it - character creation and updating, min-maxing and power gaming become an end in itself rather than just playing D&D. I never played 0e either but love the simplicity of White Box, not because of nostalgia but because it is so simple and plays fast (even binding wounds speeds up the game since you don't have to stop for healing so much). I never played B/X D&D either (I did Holmes Basic) but again, love the simplicity with bits of AD&D thrown in for flavor. I do get nostalgic about AD&D and reminisce about the old days sometimes but have recently realized that we weren't really necessarily using all of the AD&D rules as written now that we are playing OSRIC/AD&D as written - we were just playing Basic and picking and choosing what we wanted from AD&D. If you play AD&D as written its actually quite complex...

  6. I too really like playing with the older rule sets, could be because of plain preference and/or nostalgia. What is wrong with nostalgia anyway? It does bring back a lot of good memories of playing with my friends from yesteryear and it brought me to the great group that I play with today. Win/Win…
    However, I am open to trying any rule set. In my case the rule set is not as important as the group of people playing. I believe that any rule set can be a lot of fun as long as you have a good group of players.

  7. It has nothing to do with nostalgia for me, I started playing in 2003 and stuck with 3.5 for nigh 7 long years. It was only after falling out with my old group, and my interest in all things history, that I really started to look at the older editions and found they suited my minimalistic tastes. So while I will always hold a soft spot for 3E in my heart my rules of choice will always be 2E and earlier.

  8. I was literally raised to be a gamer - my dad weaned my sister and me on 1e. I skipped over 2e, and when 3e came out, I was excited at the sheer number of options available for the player and the level of customization that goes into character creation. I didn't much care for the aesthetics of 3e (I find it too be too "modern"), but the rules I thought were excellent.

    Then I started DMing my first games, and I realized that the 3+ system is too unwieldy to manage. As Scadgrad points out, combat becomes the focus almost to the exclusion of everything else. The options that I praised for their coverage now became obstacles to role-play. Abstract stat lines dominated the game, trumping character development and story creation.

    If I said that nostalgia was not a part of why I returned to OSR, I would be lying through my teeth. But at the same time, I find that the newer systems simply used up time finding the appropriate rules that could have been used for gaming. And this works for both DMs and for players: My group consists of two min-maxers who verge closely on being munchkins, and they were horrified that they would have to reduce their four-page character sheet to a single index card a la MicroLite20. However, we accomplished so much adventuring that first night, that they have been hooked since!